Episode 7: “Waiting to Exhale”
Cliff: If you’re just starting this podcast, go back and listen from episode 1, it’ll make a lot more sense.
Amanda Lamb: Daniel Green’s mother, Elizabeth, sits in a neat, modest trailer in Robeson County praying her son will eventually be released from prison. She’s been waiting for 28 years. She is in her sixties now and looks weary from grief and worry.
Elizabeth Green: The same thing that goes through my mind every day. This is not a one day. This is every day of my life.
Amanda: For Elizabeth, more than one life was lost in the summer of 1993. While the Jordan family mourned for their father, she wept for her son. She was there the day investigators came to talk to Daniel about stolen car parts, the beginning of the nightmare for the Green family.
Elizabeth Green: I pray every day that God, and especially with my health being poor, that he has a mother to come home to.
Amanda: So far on the show, we’ve talked a lot about the facts of this case — who did what, why, how do we know. We talk about evidence, witnesses, who testified, what they had to say.
What’s often forgotten, though, are the people around the case — the friends, the families, innocent bystanders swept into the storm. I think of it like a ripple effect: when you throw a pebble into a pond and the rings spread out in concentric circles, all the way to the banks.
When a violent crime happens, everyone connected to the victim and the suspects are touched by those ripples. They’re pushed, pulled and changed by the tragedy in unwanted and often subtle, inexplicable ways.
Elizabeth Green: I’m waiting to exhale. I haven’t been able to, uh, draw a complete breath in 20 some years and I cannot wait until I can just take a deep breath and exhale.
Amanda: From WRAL Studios, this is Follow the Truth: The story of the James Jordan Murder and the man who says he didn’t do it. I’m Amanda Lamb.
Amanda: In December of 2019, producer Cliff Bumgardner and I visited Elizabeth at her home in Fairmont, North Carolina.
Amanda Lamb: So how are you? Hanging in there?
Elizabeth Green: I’ve been better, but I’ve been worse. [trails off]
Amanda: When we got there, the whole family was busy cleaning up, preparing for our arrival. One of Elizabeth’s granddaughter’s mopped the floor. The carpet was freshly vacuumed, the lines still visible. They had pushed excess furniture and boxes to the side of the room. The couches were covered with blankets and Elizabeth sat with her daughter, Eboni, on a small couch beneath a large picture of a tiger hung on the wall behind them. Throughout the interview, you can hear Eboni’s daughters walk in and out of the house, the screen door slapping behind them, phones pinging. Music emanates from a distant room. It’s family life in progress.
Elizabeth raised Daniel and Eboni as a single mother. She says it was tough, but she never worried about how they would turn out.
Amanda Lamb: Did you, I mean, even though times were hard, did you always think yeah, Daniel, Daniel’s going to do something in life?
Elizabeth Green: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I saw him being whomever he might’ve thought about being. He had the potential for it. I felt in my heart that he was not only going to be okay, that he would, he would rise above. He was an avid reader. He would read everything from the back of a cereal box to encyclopedias.
Amanda: This is the first time Elizabeth or Eboni have done an in-depth interview with the media. And they welcome us with open arms. They welcome us with the energy and enthusiasm of a family that wants to tell their story.
Eboni Lewis: Okay. My name is Eboni Lewis and I’m Daniel Green’s sister.
Amanda Lamb: His little sister?
Eboni Lewis: Baby sister.
Amanda: Daniel’s sister Eboni can barely contain herself when she talks about her brother. She loves him. She’s proud to be his sister. And she can’t believe how he’s been painted with such an ugly brush. She wants people to see Daniel the way she sees Daniel.
Eboni Lewis: See, people think of Daniel like as a cold blooded murderer. And Daniel was a geek, a bookworm, a nerd.
Amanda: A nerd. Probably not the description of Daniel Green anyone would expect. But Elizabeth says it’s true.
Elizabeth Green: He was an interesting child. He was not the kind of child that, um. He was low maintenance. Because you didn’t have to worry about where he was. Nine times out of ten, he was in a book. Whenever I couldn’t find a book, I knew exactly where the book was. I knew where to go to find out where the book was. Was always inquisitive as to how, you know, mechanical things work, that type of things. Uh, he was considered, as, you know, a little nerd. That’s how everybody considered him.
Eboni Lewis: We always used to catch lightning bugs because we had to go to bed at eight, when Alex Trebeck said good night we had to say good night, and so we would sneak and catch lightning bugs in Mason Jars and put little holes in the top, and so he liked to read. So he would put the Mason Jar on his bed and you know, just tap it and the lightning bugs would light up and that would give him enough light to read.
Amanda: Daniel told me a story when we first met that pretty much sums up his relationship with his sister. When they were kids, their father, who was a drug addict and suffered from mental illness, took them into Center City Philadelphia and left them on a cold winter day sitting, ironically, at the foot of the famous LOVE sculpture.
You’ve probably seen a picture of this statue. It’s big and red, the L is stacked over the V and the O is stacked over the E.
Eboni was about 7 or 8 and Daniel was just a few years older, maybe 10 or 11.
Eboni Lewis: And so I remember sitting there and you know, I started getting scared, you know, people kept looking at us and you know, Daniel, “it’s okay.” I know we sat there for hours and hours. And not even money to make a call.
Amanda: Their father didn’t come back that day. Eventually shivering and scared, Daniel figured out how they could take a bus back to where they were staying with their mother. With Daniel leading the way, they finally made it home safely. This solidified how Daniel saw his role as a protector.
Eboni Lewis: That was his job. Yeah. All the time. He always had to take care of me. I was always in something.
Amanda: Eboni remembers Daniel as her protector, her best friend, her role model. They were poor, they moved around a lot, but at least they had each other. She remembered how they worshipped Michael Jordan when they were growing up. She says they sang the “Be Like Mike” song from the Gatorade commercial all the time.
Eboni Lewis: [Singing] I dream, I move, I dream, I groove like Mike, if I could be like Mike, [speaking] and then somebody in background saying, [singing] I really want to be like Mike.
Amanda Lamb: You have a beautiful voice.
E: Oh, hoarse. But it was, you know, like the “Like Mike” song, he was on the Wheaties box. Like, I can remember us picking Wheaties so we could cut the front of the Wheaties box to get pictures of Michael Jordan. And so, you know, that was everything. Michael was everything to the Black community, you know?
Amanda: So, it was incomprehensible that Daniel could be involved in something so horrible as the death of Michael Jordan’s father. In Elizabeth and Eboni’s minds, they had the wrong person. It had to be a mistake. They were all there that night, the night police say James Jordan was killed. They were with Daniel at Kay’s house.
And while Elizabeth’s memory is not perfect, she does remember what happened in July of 1993. She remembers the party at her best friend, Kay Hernandez’s house on July 22nd. And she remembers commotion at the house early that morning on July 23rd, when she says Larry returned to Kay’s house, trying to get Daniel to go somewhere with him.
Elizabeth Green: I said “boy, where are you going?” He said, “Mama, Larry wanted me to go with him.” I said, “Where are you going?” Said, something about Larry had a flat tire. He was going to help him go, help him change the tire. “Mama, I’ll be right back.”
Amanda: Eboni remembers this moment too.
Eboni Lewis: And I can remember standing behind my mama. He could see me, but my mama couldn’t. But my mama was like, fussing, “where are y’all going?” You know, “you got to go to work.” And I can remember like standing behind her, fussing, like moving my hand, picking at him. And so. All I know Larry had came to pick him up that morning and he was like, “Ma, I got to go help Larry right quick and I’ll be right back.”
Amanda: So, despite Elizabeth’s misgivings that morning, Daniel and Larry left. She would later replay that moment over and over in her mind because this is the moment, according to Daniel, that he got involved, the moment he became an accessory to murder after-the-fact, the moment he agreed to help Larry get rid of a body.
Weeks later, on August 14, 1993, Elizabeth remembers when investigators came to her home to take Daniel in for questioning in the Jordan case. At the time, they just thought it was about stolen car parts. But it would be the last time she ever saw him free.
Elizabeth Green: He said, “can I hug my mama before I go?” And I went and I put my arms around him, I can still see them putting him in that car. I can still see him turning all the way around. Looking back as they drove off with my child in that car.
Amanda: The next day, Elizabeth was at Kay’s house when she got the call telling her Daniel had officially been charged with murder. Kay says Elizabeth collapsed on the bathroom floor, unable to speak. At the same time, investigators were getting ready to search Elizabeth’s trailer for evidence. She couldn’t even go home.
Eboni recalls being at a sleepover at her cousin’s house when the report about Daniel’s arrest came on the news. She was asleep on the floor near the TV.
Eboni Lewis: Maybe subconsciously in my sleep I was waking up and I could hear it. But I remember saying, [gasps], opening my eyes and they had him on the news. And he stayed on the news for maybe three, three years. Three, four years straight like.
Amanda Lamb: So it was terrible for him. But it was terrible for you too, wasn’t it?
Eboni Lewis: Yes, yes. Like my life got turned upside down. That’s my big, I mean, he was really like my everything.
Amanda: While Daniel was in jail awaiting trial, his great grandmother, Elizabeth Alston, the woman who helped raise him and Eboni, died. She was the family’s rock, they often just called her grandmother. She was the one who taught them to be proud no matter what. Eboni says this bravado some people saw when they looked at Daniel, the way he held his head up and walked with confidence even when he was shackled and handcuffed, wasn’t arrogance at all, but was really just good old fashioned country pride, passed down for generations in her family.
Eboni Lewis: I can remember them, um, saying like putting in the newspaper about, um, him looking arrogant. And it wasn’t arrogance. My grandmother was an old country, strong person. Like even as I’m sitting here with you, I’m relaxed. You didn’t sit in my grandma’s house like that. You held your shoulders up, you walked with your head up.
Amanda: At the end of October 1994, the sheriff allowed Daniel out of jail to go to his great grandmother’s funeral. And just so you have a mental picture of this: deputies are guarding him and he is in handcuffs and leg irons, as he gives a eulogy.
Eboni Lewis: And he was saying, you know how his grandma raised him to have dignity and respect. And he said “and she would always say, no matter what, you always hold your head up.” And he said, “I can stand in here before this congregation, you know, with shackles on my feet and handcuffs on my hand and I can still hold my head up.”
Amanda: Daniel’s family stood by him throughout everything. This included attending his trial. Elizabeth and Kay say they were there every single day. Elizabeth recalls watching Daniel’s best childhood friend, Larry Demery, take the stand and testify against her son. She says it was one of the hardest parts of the entire experience for her.
Elizabeth Green: This child and Daniel were so close that this child was allowed to come and spend nights at my house. And vice versa. That is a double hurt because like I said, this child had been at my table. I had established a good rapport with his parents, we were friends.
Eboni Lewis: It was like a big hurt for the whole situation. I’ve known Larry since I was maybe five years old. Larry would sit head down, shoulders bent, I mean, you lied on your best friend. You got a reason to hold your head down.
Amanda: But the most painful part for Daniel’s family by far was the day the jury returned its verdict. Eboni had gone out of town with her aunt to pick up her cousin from college for spring break. Her cousin and aunt were in the dorm packing up. Eboni was alone in the car when the news came on the radio.
Eboni Lewis: I was sitting in the car listening to music and Foxy 99 said, “we need to interrupt with a special news something” and I just remember it said, um, “Daniel Green has just been convicted of the murder of James Jordan.” I was sitting in the car by myself at Fayetteville State university.
Amanda Lamb: How did that feel?
Eboni Lewis: I like went numb, it was like. And I must have started screaming or something.
Amanda: Elizabeth was in the courtroom when Daniel was convicted. She remembers the moment like it was yesterday.
Elizabeth Green: Yes, ma’am. I was there. And I haven’t drawn a full inhale since. He turned around and he looked back at me like, you know. He was just amazed.
Amanda Lamb: You all were.
Elizabeth Green: Yes.
Amanda: I’ve talked to Daniel many times about the stigma that comes along with being the guy convicted of killing Michael Jordan’s father. But until now, I hadn’t thought about how that cloud might extend to cover Daniel’s family too, another ripple, landing on their shores.
Amanda Lamb: You’re the mother of the man convicted of killing James Jordan.
Elizabeth Green: Exactly. Exactly.
Amanda Lamb: How has that affected you?
Elizabeth Green: Oh, well, a lot of moving.
Amanda: Elizabeth and Eboni told me being Daniel’s family, well, it hasn’t been easy. In school, Eboni says other kids bullied her because of who her brother is, what he was convicted of. And it was even bigger than that. There were threats, real or just perceived, that Daniel’s family might be targets for violence.
Eboni Lewis: I think that’s where my anxiety problems came in here. I always, it was like you’d hear death threats and you know, different people said different things. And people’d be, “oh, Michael Jordan got money gonna come have y’all killed.” So, it was like, I went through a lot of different emotions. I was scared and hurt, but over the scaredness, the, I was alone. And that’s the, the feeling that I can describe mostly through this. It’s like Daniel was my everything. That’s my big brother. It’s always me and him. You know.
Amanda: And then, in 1999, Elizabeth had an aneurysm.
Eboni Green: My mom had an aneurism in ‘99. I was 21 years old. I was eight months pregnant. I slept sitting up in hospital chairs my last month of pregnancy. I didn’t, you know, I didn’t have a brother to come in and help me and, “Oh, I got mom, go take a break.”
Amanda: The family, including Daniel, thought Elizabeth might not make it. Or certainly, if she did, that she would never be the same again. But always a fighter, she pulled through.
Elizabeth Green: That, because they said, you know, that I would never be able to remember things or this type of thing. And I think that that was the one thing that helped me to come back was so that I could continue to fight for my child.
Amanda: And continue to fight she did. And she’s still fighting today.
More after the break.
[Sound of keypad]
Recorded Voice: … monitored and recorded. Thank you for using Global Tel-Link.
Amanda Lamb: [whispers] Just tell him you’re with us.
Elizabeth Green: Hello, hello.
Daniel Green: Hey, how are you doing? [fades under]
Amanda: These days, Daniel talks to his family on the phone a lot, I mean a lot. He’s a big talker, I can vouch to that from my personal experience. And because his family never knows exactly when he’s going to call, it’s always a mad dash to answer the phone.
Amanda Lamb: You talk to him on the phone?
Elizabeth Green: Every day, everyday as many times a day…
Amanda Lamb: He spends a lot of time on the phone
Elizabeth Green: Yeah, he stays on- we, we talk a lot.
Amanda: Daniel and his family get 15 minutes per call, and often, when the call disconnects automatically at the end of the 15 minutes, well, he’s usually in mid-sentence. Often he calls right back. He literally picks up midstream, right where he left off, like there’s been no interruption.
While we were there, just as we started wrapping up our interviews with Elizabeth and Eboni, Daniel called. They put him on speaker phone so everyone who was home at the time got a chance to interact with him.
Daniel Green: You’re not going to start cussing…
Elizabeth Green: [Laughs] No, don’t say no bad words, we are on the air.
Daniel Green: Ok
Elizabeth Green: [Laughs] So how you feeling?
Daniel Green: Well ma, mom, did you tell her what Kenny Rogers said?
Elizabeth Green: What? You got to know when to hold ‘em.
Daniel Green: Got to know when to hold ‘em.
Elizabeth Green: Know when to fold ‘em. Know when to walk away. Know when to run. Yes indeedy. Yep.
Amanda: This is how Daniel often is with his family, casual, playful, a loving son, a brother who picks on his little sister, a doting uncle. It’s like he’s not in prison. It’s like he’s calling from just down the road and may pop in at any moment.
Elizabeth Green: Yeah, so you okay baby?
Daniel Green: Yes ma’am, I’m doing good. [trails off]
Amanda: And other times, well, Daniel has a tendency to ramble, get philosophical, go off on random tangents. So the family, they mute themselves and continue doing whatever they’re doing, folding laundry, cleaning the kitchen. And then when he takes the rare breath they unmute themselves and murmur, ”uh huh.”
Eboni Lewis: Yeah, we mute him. [Laughing] Don’t record that.
Amanda Lamb: Ok, we won’t tell him.
Eboni Lewis: Sometimes, I just come back and we’re like, “yep.” When he starts with stuff like that…
Amanda: Eboni was joking around with us. She says Daniel talks about things that frankly are over her head. He’s got a lot of time to think in prison. And she knows he just needs to get it out. So, she just lets him ramble.
And since he’s been in prison his whole adult life, Daniel really has no concept of just how fast things move outside the prison walls today, just how busy people are. He doesn’t realize when they’re on the phone with him, that the world is spinning furiously around the people he’s talking to, and that they may be distracted while he is laser-focused on what he’s saying.
These days he is especially focused on being an engaged uncle.
Elizabeth Green: He talks to all the children. And every day if it’s one or the other one or the other, whatever that 15 minutes will allow at that time. And trying to um, trying to stay on top of them. Encourage them. And educate them. I mean he gives them information. And he’s a big part- everybody runs to the phone when it’s uncle Daniel, uncle Daniel.
Amanda: Eboni has six children, five girls and a boy. The boy’s name is Daniel. She says she was determined to have a son so he could be just like her big brother.
Eboni Lewis: He has his hands, his hands are- and it’s, it’s crazy how, you know, things happen sometimes- but, um, I can remember just like laying there as a kid or whatever, and I just always hold one of Daniel’s hands and rubbed on his fingernails. But little Daniel’s hands are just like Daniel’s.
Amanda: And even though they don’t see their Uncle Daniel in person, his nieces and nephew feel like they know him.
Eboni Lewis: They like really have a relationship with him. That’s Uncle Daniel like, he talks to them. Um, sometimes he’ll just, he might call two or three times that day and he’ll put that day off on who might be going through something and need him.
Elizabeth Green: [On the phone with Daniel] Hold on, there she is, hold on.
Amanda Lamb: It’s a family affair.
Elizabeth Green: Oh, Yeah.
Daniel Green: Hey love, how you doing?
Niece: Hey, I’m doing good.
Daniel Green: What’s going on?
Niece: Nothing much. I’m doing good.
Daniel Green: Yeah, girl you, you’re supposed to be pulling out your music right now. That song you’re working on.
Niece: Who me? Hmm
Elizabeth Green: Tell him Lisa says she loves you.
Niece: I love you too Uncle Daniel.
Elizabeth Green: Oh yeah, Lisa says she loves you
Daniel Green: Bye.
Elizabeth Green: I love you. [Call drops.]
Amanda Lamb: What’s that like when you hear that call end?
Elizabeth Green: Same thing every time.
Eboni Lewis: It ain’t that bad no more because you know he’s going to-
Amanda Lamb: Call you back.
Eboni Lewis: Right [laughing].
Elizabeth Green: Yeah, but still you know.
Amanda: And he does call back sometimes, but I can see the pained look on Elizabeth’s face that reveals that no amount of phone calls can replace having her son here in person.
Amanda Lamb: Probably the biggest impact on your life, the biggest impact is the fact that you’ve been living without your son all these years.
Elizabeth Green: Not even being able to imagine what he’s going through. You’re trying to just hold yourself together and not fall apart. Because you don’t want him to feel bad.
Eboni Lewis: I can tell when his voice like quivers and you know, like- I’ve never really seen him cry though. Never seen him cry. Even as a kid, he’d always have to fake strong for me. I can hear his voice get weak about certain things, like with the kids or me. And he’d be like, okay, I’ll call you back. Bye bye. And you know. But he always like, he’s strong with me.
Amanda: And every time there’s a setback in the case, when they think there’s a chance a judge will take another look at it and he doesn’t, it sends Eboni back to being that little girl who lost her brother in 1993.
Eboni Lewis: It was like, for a long time I was just in a daze. Like, actually, I don’t know if Daniel told you, as a kid, um, like a little kid, a baby, I used to have bad seizures and I finally outgrew them, maybe 12, 13 years old. But I even started back having seizures when this happened. It was such stress, it was shutting me down.
Amanda: Eboni says all the years of waiting for something to happen in Daniel’s case, getting her hopes up and then being let down time and time again, it’s taken a toll.
Eboni Lewis: Like I could sit here sometimes and just cry. My kids know to cry. My mama knows to cry. They don’t even ask anymore what’s wrong. They can tell when I’m crying about him. It’s hard, like you know.
Amanda: And Eboni says she believes if Daniel’s case wasn’t associated with someone as famous as Michael Jordan, Daniel never would’ve been convicted.
Eboni Lewis: If James Jordan was a normal African American man that was, um, murdered in another town, It wouldn’t have mattered. So fame and fortune is what convicted my brother.
Amanda: But even when the courts deny one of Daniel’s various appeals, his family still has hope. They dream of the day when Daniel finally comes home to them.
Amanda Lamb: If Daniel were to walk through that door right now, what would that be like for you?
Eboni Lewis: It’d probably be, it’d be the best day of my life. It’d be the best day of my life. I dream about it. I, um, I’ve been waiting for that day for 26 years. I’ll always be 15-year-old Eboni waking up, seeing them take him into the courthouse. I can remember the shirt he had on had a collar on it. I’ll always, I always go back to that time and it, it, it shaped, you know, it, it changed me. It changed… I used to be the most believing and caring, and like just carefree, everybody’s good child. And that was a reality that the world is not what I thought the world was. It’s, you know, that’s still my brother. That’s still my hero in prison with the khakis on. [Laughing.] That’s my hero like he always has been. He always has been.
Amanda: And Elizabeth, she’s still holding her breath, waiting for that day too, a day that may never come. A day she will never stop imagining.
Elizabeth Green: As long as there’s life, there’s hope. But I can visualize and see him walking out.
Amanda Lamb: If he were to walk through that door right now, what would that be like?
Elizabeth Green: Do you know the extent of the grain of sand on the planet earth? It wouldn’t measure. It wouldn’t measure.
Amanda: On the next episode of Follow the Truth.
Chris Mumma: There’s egregious things that the state did, there’s egregious things that the defense council did. Um, I think the overriding theme in the case is that the case was handled differently because of the high profile nature of it.
Amanda: A high-profile attorney turns her attention to Daniel’s Case
Greg Taylor: If you have the truth on your side and Chris Mumma on your side, that is your best possible chance.
News Reporter: A recent independent review of one section of the lab found 230 cases where SBI analysts and agents did not provide accurate information to the courts between 1987 and 2003.
Chris Mumma: I think we have no idea what happened. But what I know in my legal mind and in my heart is that Daniel Green was not there when it happened.
And, um, we’ve won every case that we’ve litigated.
Amanda: Get the latest episode by following the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you listen.
Follow the Truth is written by me, Amanda Lamb, and Cliff Bumgardner.
Cliff also produces the show.
Shelly Leslie is our executive producer.
The show is edited and mixed by Wilson Sayre.
Our production manager is Anita Normanly.
Original music is by George Hage and Lee Rosevere.
Additional reporting by Clay Johnson, Jay Jennings and the many other WRAL-TV journalists whose coverage you hear throughout the story. The show is represented by Melinda Morris Zanoni and Legacy Talent Entertainment with branding and digital marketing by Capitol B Creative. Special thanks to Dave Beasing.
Thanks for listening.