Attorneys claim evidence tampering in murder of Michael Jordan's father
Attorneys for a man serving life in prison for the murder of Michael Jordan's father are asking for a new trial, saying someone tampered with the dead man's shirt after his autopsy.Posted — Updated
The autopsy found no hole in James Jordan's shirt that corresponded with the bullet wound in his upper right chest area, but an agent with the State Bureau of Investigation later contradicted that on the witness stand, according to the lawyers' filing in Robeson County Superior Court.
"This newly discovered evidence of tampering adds to the growing list of legal concerns and factual evidence which add weight to the conclusion that not only does Daniel Green deserve a new trial but that he is innocent of the murder of James Jordan," said Chris Mumma, executive director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, which recently joined the Southern Coalition for Social Justice in Green's defense.
The state Attorney General's Office is reviewing Wednesday's filing, a spokeswoman said Thursday.
The basketball great's father was killed on July 23, 1993, in North Carolina. His body was found in a South Carolina swamp.
Green and Larry Demery were convicted in 1996, but Demery testified at their trial that Green was the one who shot Jordan as he slept in his luxury car in Robeson County. Green has long claimed his innocence, telling WRAL News in 1998 that he was wrongly convicted of pulling the trigger.
Attorneys have filed previous motions over the years for a new trial, challenging blood evidence, witness testimony and juror conduct, as well as alleging police corruption.
Green admitted in the interview that he drove James Jordan's Lexus and wore his watch and an NBA championship ring he was given by his son. He also admitted he helped dump Jordan's body in the South Carolina swamp.
Michael Jordan, now the owner of the NBA's Charlotte Hornets, was one of the greatest professional basketball players of all time. He led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships, and in 1982, his game-winning shot led the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to the NCAA championship over Georgetown University.
He and his father were close, evidenced in the photo of the two hugging after the Bulls won the 1992 championship.
In Green's 1998 interview, he said he wrote a letter to Jordan's family to explain his version of what happened and apologize.
This week's court filing says the absence of a hole in the right chest area contradicts the prosecutors' theory that Jordan was lying in his car when he was shot. "It also gave strength to the defense theory that there was an altercation between Demery and Mr. Jordan, which was kept from the jury," the court filing says.
The filing describes an unusual chain of custody for the shirt. It says Dr. Joel Sexton of Newberry, S.C., who performed the autopsy, gave it to a law enforcement officer, who gave it to a civilian employee of a company that provided services for funeral homes. That employee gave the shirt to his boss, who said he buried it in his backyard because of the smell.
When law enforcement later determined that the shirt was evidence, the SBI worked with South Carolina law enforcement officials to exhume the shirt and transport it to Raleigh. It was then that an SBI agent reported the presence of a bullet hole in the upper right chest area of the shirt, the filing says.
Sexton had written in the autopsy report that he looked for and didn't find a corresponding hole in the right chest area of the shirt that corresponded with James Jordan's fatal wound. Instead, he found three holes near the shirt tail, he wrote. Those holes would line up with the fatal wound if the shirt were pulled up about one foot, he wrote – "as one might do if pulling a gun from their waist," the court filing adds.
"This actually fits more with he was shot somewhere else. So, it actually ties the physical evidence together much more closely than what we had before," said Mumma, whose work has helped exonerate several wrongfully convicted men in recent years. "If the prosecution did not investigate how that hole got there after they noted that there was no hole, then at a minimum that's incompetence. I believe the hole was added."
SBI Agent R.N. Mars testified that the hole he found in the shirt "marked the location where the single, fatal bullet transversed the victim's clothing and entered his body," the filing says. "But Agent Mars offered no explanation for the three holes in the lower section of Mr. Jordan's shirt that Dr. Sexton's autopsy suggested were caused by the bullet. The district attorney, who had once highlighted Dr. Sexton's notes about the absence of a bullet hole in the chest area of the shirt, did not ask about the three holes in the lower section of the shirt, and – critically for Mr. Green – neither did his defense attorneys."
Robeson County District Attorney Johnson Britt said Thursday that he didn't recall any discrepancies with the shirt, and he contends that Green's story evolved after he was tied to James Jordan's stolen belongings.
"I'm very confident in the manner in which I handled the case and the way the trial proceeded. They're trying to change the narrative after the fact," Britt said. "If he's only an accessory, how did he get all the spoils of this robbery?"
"That has nothing to do with whether the person was dead or not when he got involved," Mumma replied. "Daniel Green is totally innocent of murder."
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