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25 years after Michael Jordan's father was murdered, key questions remain unanswered

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 7/21/2018 By Dan Wiederer, Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO, IL - FEB 7, 1988: Michael Jordan #23 of the Eastern Conference All Stars stands on the court with his father James Jordan after recieving the MVP award in 1988 at Chicago Stadium in Chicago, IL. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1988 NBAE (Photo by Robert Mora/NBAE via Getty Images)

CHICAGO, IL - FEB 7, 1988: Michael Jordan #23 of the Eastern Conference All Stars stands on the court with his father James Jordan after recieving the MVP award in 1988 at Chicago Stadium in Chicago, IL. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1988 NBAE (Photo by Robert Mora/NBAE via Getty Images)
© (Photo by Robert Mora/NBAE via Getty Images)

James Jordan hit the road shortly after midnight, cruising into the summer darkness in his red Lexus SC400. Jordan had spent that day - July 22, 1993 - at the funeral of a former co-worker in Wilmington, N.C., later visiting with friends.

Now he was headed 3 1/2 hours toward his home in Charlotte, scheduled to fly to Chicago the following day.

He never made it.

On the same evening, Daniel Green and Larry Demery gathered at a cookout in Lumberton, N.C., two teenage friends hanging out. Within hours, though, their lives converged with the father of the world's most renowned basketball player.

Jordan wound up in a South Carolina swamp, his dead body draped over a tree limb. Green and Demery wound up with life sentences for first-degree murder.

Yet 25 years later, key questions remain unanswered. And with Green bidding for a new trial in the North Carolina justice system, somehow the back cover on the case has still not been closed.

Green is now awaiting a superior court judge's ruling on a motion that contends, among other things, that the initial investigation into Jordan's death overlooked or ignored important evidence. Green's defense team hopes to present new evidence that they contend will show that the blood evidence and testimony were misrepresented at the original trial; that a bullet hole found in Jordan's shirt is suspect; and that there were failures by the prosecution to properly disclose information that would have connected the sheriff's drug-trafficking biological son to the investigation.

Folded within that complex legal battle is a straightforward question: Is the accepted narrative of James Jordan's murder an accurate account of what happened?

Johnson Britt, the prosecutor in the case, sees Green's legal fight as little more than desperation. "I just think that's his personality," Britt says. "He's never going to own up to what he did. He's never going to own up to what the jury said he did. He just won't accept it."

The North Carolina attorney general's office is representing the state and maintains the evidence against Green is "overwhelming," according to court filings.

Among the general public, many remember the crime as follows: that James Jordan, a little more than an hour into his drive from Wilmington to Charlotte, stopped to nap in his Lexus alongside a highway; that he was shot as he slept during a botched robbery; that his body was found and two troubled teens were charged, tried and convicted soon after.

Yet so many odd circumstances surrounded Jordan's death.

Jordan's body was not discovered in his car but turned up in a swamp in McColl, S.C., 11 days after the murder. Jordan was cremated Aug. 7 by a South Carolina coroner - as a John Doe before his body had been identified.

His 1992 Lexus was not discovered on the side of the road where he had purportedly slept but abandoned in the woods near Fayetteville, N.C., 60 miles from where his body was found and after it had been stripped.

A total of 21 days passed before family members reported Jordan missing. His 57th birthday came and went on July 31, nine days after he had last been seen alive. On the 22nd day, his body was identified with dental records.

Michael Jordan's father had been murdered, shot once in the chest.

Less than five weeks earlier, Michael and James Jordan were on top of the world, together in Phoenix celebrating the Bulls' third consecutive NBA championship. James was, in Michael's words, his "best friend," perhaps his most loyal supporter, the man affectionately known as "Pops."

When Michael won his first NBA championship in 1991, James' arms were draped around his son as Michael hugged the Larry O'Brien trophy. In 1993, when Michael's gambling habits drew intense scrutiny, James defended his son and helped mollify Michael's temporary media boycott. Throughout Michael's life, James always seemed to be around for the biggest moments.

Now, suddenly, he was gone.

Ultimately, Green and Demery faced a mountain of evidence that connected them both to James Jordan's disappearance, the disposal of his body and the theft of his car and many of his possessions. Eventually they both were convicted and sent to prison for life.

But with Jordan killed by one .38-caliber bullet to the heart, the task of concluding who pulled the trigger was complicated from the start. And it remains so.

Recalling the day

Daniel Green settles into a wooden chair and scoots forward from the cinder block behind him. To his right, a framed map of North Carolina hangs on the wall. To his left, a clock ticks away.

Green is in an office inside Lumberton Correctional Institution, again attempting to recount the early hours of July 23, 1993, when he became involved in a murder.

Green sits up, wearing black-rimmed glasses. The shirt of his light gray inmate suit is tucked into the elastic band of his pants.

He is 43 now and remains haunted by the decisions he made as a teenager, trying once again to explain how he and Demery wound up with Jordan's dead body beside a road that night.

More than anything, Green says that, contrary to what prosecutors told jurors, he did not shoot James Jordan; that he was not even present when Jordan was killed; that he does not believe, based on things he says he was told, that Jordan was inside his car when he died.

"If you're innocent of something," Green says, "it makes you want to keep fighting. Because you're really fighting for reality. ... If you know what reality is, you're trying to protect it. It's almost a matter of protecting your own sanity."

Green freely admits that he helped dump Jordan's body into a swamp, that he and Demery stole the Lexus and snatched a collection of prized possessions from Michael Jordan's father. Most damning, in the days after the murder, Green filmed a rap video in which, preening and strutting, he wore an NBA championship watch that Michael Jordan had given to his father as well as the Bulls star's 1986 NBA All-Star ring.

Still, had Green been convicted only of the crime he owns up to - accessory to murder after the fact - he would have received a maximum sentence of 10 years under North Carolina law. Instead, Green continues serving his life sentence in a medium-security prison a little more than 100 miles south of Raleigh.

Demery, also 43, is imprisoned for life 29 miles away at Scotland Correctional Institution.

The party

The evening before the murder began ordinarily enough. Green says he was with Demery and other friends at a cookout at his godmother's home in a nearby trailer park. But Green says that Demery left around 1:30 a.m., saying he needed to tend to business for a drug-related trip to New York the next day.

Green contends that Demery asked him to come along but that he declined in order to spend more time with a female acquaintance.

Before dawn, Green says, Demery returned and seemed shaken.

"I had never seen him like that before," Green says. "I had seen him in situations where he was upset. I had seen him in situations where he was scared. But this was just a different level."

Demery did not respond to a letter sent to him in prison requesting an interview. His former defense attorney, Hugh Rogers, did not respond to emails and phone calls requesting an interview.

Green, meanwhile, alleges that Demery told him he had been involved in an altercation and shot a man near the Quality Inn just off U.S. 74 and I-95.

Demery, Green says, begged for help.

The two teens, according to Green, then drove back to the motel. And it was there, Green says, that he saw the dead body for the first time, in a ditch beside a small store next to the Quality Inn.

Green describes the choice he faced: either turn his back on a longtime friend whom he considered a brother, or help Demery cover up the murder.

Not long after, the two friends stood on Pea Bridge just across the South Carolina border and dumped Jordan's body into Gum Swamp.

"I just didn't know how to listen to my conscience back then," Green says. "I didn't recognize that voice. ... I guess (it was) maybe the mentality of saying, 'OK, this is my dude. I'm a real man. Like, I'm a real man because my friend needed me and I was there for my friend.'"

Twenty-five years later, Green says he wishes he had had the strength to deny Demery's urgent requests.

"When I was a kid," Green says, "I used to read these books called 'Choose Your Own Adventure' books when you make one decision and turn the page. That's kind of like it was.

"You look back and think, man, if I had done this (instead)."

The evidence

Twenty-three days after originally crossing paths with James Jordan, Green and Demery were arrested and charged with murder, done in largely by calls they'd made from Jordan's car phone. Still, court records show there is no physical evidence incriminating Green as the triggerman. And that, he and his attorneys assert, should be a determining factor in whether he ultimately walks free or remains in prison for the rest of his life.

Green's lead attorney, Christine Mumma, is the executive director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, a nonprofit that focuses on wrongful convictions and whose efforts have led to criminal justice reform. In spearheading Green's current bid, Mumma highlights inconsistencies and potential flaws in the state's case against Green in a court filing, called a motion for appropriate relief, that also makes allegations of corruption within the Robeson County criminal justice system.

Among the most perplexing issues to Green's lawyers: How could authorities be so certain of the murder's timing, its location and how it occurred when there were no outside witnesses and so little physical evidence to corroborate that account?

The prosecution's version of events - relying almost entirely on Demery's testimony - maintains that Jordan was shot through the heart at close range while sitting in the driver's seat of his Lexus.

Yet the coroner's report shows there was no exit wound to Jordan's body. There was also no blood definitively found inside the car. No gunshot residue either.

In addition, according to news reports, on the day the murder was confirmed, authorities announced to the news media their belief that the killing had not happened inside the vehicle, an assertion the prosecution would later contradict.

During Green's 1996 trial, the state presented expert testimony from Jennifer Elwell, a special agent at the State Bureau of Investigations, to support Demery's story. Elwell testified that two chemical tests suggested "a pretty good indication of blood" but only in the back crevice of the passenger seat.

But in Green's post-conviction motion, his legal team argues that prosecutors did not disclose at trial that multiple other chemical tests performed by Elwell on the leather taken from Jordan's front seat were inconclusive in their attempted detection of blood.

The state has conceded that there was little evidence to show much, if any, blood inside Jordan's car. But Britt, the lead prosecutor, also asserts that never concerned him as he built his case.

"There was a lot of blood found inside Mr. Jordan," Britt says. "He bled internally. So the fact that we couldn't confirm there was blood in the car is of little consequence, really. ... That was just one piece of the puzzle in a multifaceted case."

Still, Green's attorneys contend that absence of blood raises significant questions as to whether Jordan's death could have occurred the way it has long been depicted - in the vehicle, with Jordan startled awake from a nap.

The shirt

Beyond the lack of blood, Green's lawyers have raised questions about the shirt James Jordan was wearing - a collared knit Grand Slam pullover.

On the official autopsy report, Dr. Joel Sexton, a pathologist, concluded that Jordan's death had come from a single .38-caliber gunshot wound to the right chest.

Yet the autopsy states, "There is no hole in the shirt at that point. Directly below that location in the lower abdominal region are three holes that would line up with the hole in the chest if the shirt were pulled up approximately one foot."

According to Green's motion, that finding is in direct conflict with the testimony of R.N. Marrs, an agent with the State Bureau of Investigations. At Green's trial, Marrs identified a single hole in the upper right chest area of Jordan's shirt and also said that tests had indicated the presence of burned gunpowder around the hole.

At the time of the autopsy, however, before Jordan's body had been identified, Sexton hadn't found a hole in that right chest area of the shirt. Nor, according to the autopsy report, had he found the presence of gunpowder.

There is also the unusual chain of custody with Jordan's shirt in the days between the autopsy and when his body was identified. Immediately after the autopsy, Sexton gave the pullover to an agent in the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. That agent instead passed the shirt on to an employee of a company that provided services for funeral homes.

That employee turned Jordan's shirt over to a superior who later acknowledged burying the pullover in a bag outside the company's warehouse because of its overpowering stench, according to court documents.

After the shirt was dug up in that yard in South Carolina and later transported to the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigations, the bullet hole in the chest was found.

That, Green's attorneys contend in their motion, suggests at least the possibility of evidence tampering.

The call

Then there was the phone call, the one made from the cellular phone inside James Jordan's Lexus. The one made on July 23, 1993, at 10:36 a.m., approximately seven hours after Jordan had been murdered and his car stolen. The one to a number in Pembroke, N.C., that showed airtime of one minute.

Three hours and 31 minutes earlier, a two-minute call from that same car phone went to a 1-800 sex line. That's the call authorities and attorneys agree was the first made from the Lexus phone following Jordan's death.

The second went to that Pembroke number, 919 area code, registered to a man named Hubert Larry Deese.

During a four-day period immediately after Jordan's murder, 36 calls were made from the Lexus phone. Thirty-six calls between 7:05 a.m. on July 23 and 1:37 p.m. on July 26, most of them to Green's and Demery's friends and family. Thirty-six bread crumbs dropped so carelessly that they led investigators to their prime suspects.

Still, as Green's attorneys continue to argue, a greater attempt needed to be made to connect certain dots - particularly with that 10:36 a.m. call to the number registered to Deese.

Deese, after all, was a co-worker of Demery at Crestline Mobile Homes, a trailer manufacturing company less than a mile from the swamp where Jordan's body was discovered.

Deese also was a drug trafficker who wound up being arrested in February 1994 and linked to a Colombian cocaine pipeline that had connections in New York and Lumberton, N.C. He later was sentenced to 10 years after pleading guilty to a single trafficking count.

Deese is the biological son of Hubert Stone, the Robeson County sheriff whose office oversaw the Jordan murder investigation.

A phone call to Pembroke

Daniel Green's defense team highlights an exchange in the August 1993 interrogation of Larry Demery in which Detective Capt. Art Binder of the Cumberland County sheriff's department is pressing Demery on what happened on the day after James Jordan's murder.

That telephone call to Pembroke, Green's attorneys are convinced, has to be the one on July 23, 1993, at 10:36 a.m. to a Pembroke number registered to Hubert Larry Deese. Deese was a high-volume cocaine trafficker and the biological son of Robeson County Sheriff Hubert Stone. And Green's attorneys continue to argue that authorities failed in not investigating more thoroughly whether Deese was connected to the murder.

In addition, Green's attorneys emphasize in court filings, Deese was a friend of Mark Locklear, one of the lead detectives on the Jordan case. In its motion, Green's legal team argues that the prosecution knew definitively about Deese's connections to Stone and Locklear at the time of Green's trial yet failed to disclose that information to the defense.

Most significant, there is no documentation that authorities ever formally questioned Deese, court records show.

How, Green's attorneys argue, can an investigation be trusted if the first person whose number was dialed from Jordan's car phone after his murder was never formally questioned?

And how should that oversight be interpreted when that dialed number belonged to a known drug dealer, the son of the sheriff and a buddy of the lead detective?

Locklear told the Chicago Tribune that Green and his attorneys were "grasping for straws."

Locklear, now 53, acknowledged his social relationship with Deese and that Deese had periodically ridden along with him in his patrol car.

"At one point in time in his life, he was interested in law enforcement," Locklear said. "Or at least he led us to believe that."

Locklear said he couldn't deny Deese's name or telephone number coming up in connection with the investigation into Jordan's murder but that he also couldn't recall it.

"There are errors made in every investigation," Locklear said. "If in fact (Deese) was not approached or at least asked why would your name be on the contact list of a potential homicide suspect, then in hindsight you look back and say that's a red flag."

Still, Locklear rejected any insinuation that the investigation was compromised in an effort to protect Deese.

"That's a line I would never cross and have never crossed," he said.

The accusation

Green, however, alleges that at the time of the murder, Demery was working as a "mule" in a Lumberton drug network where Deese was near the top of the totem pole. Green insists it was Demery who called Deese on the first full morning after Jordan's murder.

In their current motion, Green's attorneys argue that, based on physical evidence alone, it's impossible to conclude that Jordan was shot while napping inside his car near the Quality Inn.

"It is more likely," the defense motion contends, "that Demery, Deese or someone else involved in a drug transaction encountered Jordan in the parking lot and mistook him for someone connected with the drug deal, leading to the killing of Mr. Jordan by Demery, Deese, or someone meeting them there."

The state, however, rejects that hypothesis, calling it "a theory completely unsubstantiated from evidence at trial or even any information submitted to this Court."

Britt, the district attorney who prosecuted Green in 1996, barely bats an eye when asked to explain the call to Deese's number. Britt says there is no confirmation that the call was even answered and that there is nothing to prove who placed it; nor is there any evidence to show that Deese and Demery had subsequent contact.

Overall, Britt remains skeptical that the call has any significant connection to the case.

Merely showing that Demery knew Deese, the state argues, and that Deese was a high-volume drug dealer, does nothing to illuminate any link to Jordan's murder.

The state emphasizes that repeated attempts by Green's legal team to interpret the call to Deese are based only on "conjecture and speculation" to create a theory of what happened.

"You could throw a lot of stuff into this if you really wanted to just chase rabbits," Britt adds. "And that's what they really want everybody to do is chase this rabbit. They're taking this little snippet of information and trying to turn the case on its head."

Reached by the Tribune via phone for comment on the allegations made against him in Green's court filings, Deese quickly hung up.

R. Dale Godfrey, a Lumberton attorney who has represented Deese, maintains his client had nothing to do with Jordan's murder.

Godfrey contends that, while a biological connection between Deese and Sheriff Stone existed, the two were never close. Stone died in 2008.

"They didn't have a typical father-son relationship," Godfrey says. "He wouldn't have felt a desire to protect Deese. They had no contact."

Godfrey further wonders why, if Deese had ties to Jordan's murder, Demery and Green would wait nearly nine hours before calling him. Instead, Godfrey theorizes that the two teenagers might have tried calling Deese in an unsuccessful effort to unload Jordan's Lexus on a well-known cocaine trafficker who would have had both the cash and character to purchase a stolen luxury vehicle.

Green's original attorneys attempted to introduce evidence of the Deese call during the 1996 trial but were not allowed by the judge, who at the time ruled that there was no concrete proof of a biological relationship between Stone and Deese, no evidence to determine who had made that phone call and no indications of what the purpose of that call to Deese's number might have been.

The prosecution's objection was sustained, and jurors never heard about the call. But in an affidavit signed last year, the judge in the case, Gregory Weeks, said that if he had known that Deese was Stone's biological son, and worked with Demery, as well as of Deese's role in drug trafficking, he would have allowed the call into evidence. Green's attorneys assert that Britt knew all of that but failed to disclose that to the judge.

Godfrey, meanwhile, remains adamant that Deese had no ties to Jordan's murder. At the same time, he says he has never gotten past the lack of blood in Jordan's Lexus and has never put much stock in Demery's testimony.

On the whole, Godfrey says, he believes Green's legal fight has merit. "I'm in favor of him getting released," he says. "I'm just not a proponent of my client getting blamed for it."

The criminal history

Britt, the Robeson County district attorney, says the legal system provided a just result with both Green and Demery put away for the murder. Both teens, he says, were unfortunate products of their environment but were still on a path toward self-destruction.

"I was dealing with two kids who were on a crime spree," Britt says. "And that culminated with the death of Mr. Jordan. And each crime they committed together became increasingly more violent."

Britt points out that Green and Demery had been partners in at least two other armed robberies that summer. Green was sentenced for both crimes at the same time and received 28 years to be served consecutively to his life sentence. In the second robbery, Britt asserts, Green stole a .38-caliber gun from an elderly country store clerk whom he was alleged to have also shot and who survived.

Britt contends that stolen firearm was the one found in the canister of a Shop-Vac in Green's home after his arrest. That was also, Britt contends, the weapon that killed James Jordan. (Green's attorneys point out, however, that ballistic tests never matched the bullet that killed Jordan with the .38-caliber Smith & Wesson that Green possessed.)

Still, Britt maintains that Green was the leader in the crime. He also believes it is significant that Green drove Jordan's red Lexus on a double date the night after the murder. It cannot be overlooked, Britt says, that Green wore Jordan's jewelry, most notably in that home video he made in the days after the murder, rapping and seemingly flaunting the spoils of the crime.

"Daniel was the one who walked away from this robbery and murder with all the loot," Britt says.

Britt says he believes Green has an aversion to the truth and highlights the many different stories Green fed to authorities in the hours after he was taken into custody. Green's attorneys counter that their client has always been adamant that he was not the triggerman.

Still, Britt maintains, it is notable that Green had been released from the North Carolina Department of Corrections that year, having served more than two years after pleading guilty to the charge of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious bodily injury. That conviction came after a 1990 fight in which Green had struck another teen in the head with the blunt end of an ax.

"Cracked his skull like it was an egg," Britt says.

Green has always maintained he was acting in self-defense, and his attorneys point out that that conviction was vacated in 1995 when a superior court judge found that Green had received "ineffective assistance by trial counsel in juvenile court."

Still, Britt says that episode was a snapshot of character that should not be overlooked.

"He was a bad guy," he says. "This was somebody who had no regard for what he did to people. ... I'm not saying people can't change. But Daniel Green, in the day, was a really bad person."

The falling out

In the early hours of Aug. 15, 1993, Demery and Green were down the hall from each other at the Robeson County sheriff's department, each being interrogated about his involvement in Jordan's murder

Inside the narcotics room, Jimmy L. Henley, a detective on the case, bluffed to Demery, saying police had accepted a statement from Green pinning the murder on Demery. Green had made no such statement.

"You're here because you're under arrest, okay?" Henley told Demery, according to a transcript of the interrogation. "Now, exactly what we're gonna charge you with is gonna be determined by whose story is the most believable, yours or his. Right now, his is. And his makes you the shooter."

In pushing Demery for details, officers also made certain the 18-year-old suspect understood he could face the death penalty.

"First-degree murder. Capital," Detective Sgt. Don Smith told Demery, according to the interrogation transcript. "You understand capital? That's the needle up your ass, son, and you don't wake up from it."

In April 1995, 21 months after Jordan was shot and killed, Demery agreed to a plea deal, accepting his own murder conviction, hoping for leniency during sentencing and agreeing to testify against Green.

As the district attorney who made that plea agreement, Britt points out the mountain of evidence that had stacked up against Demery related to the Jordan murder and three other armed robberies he had been involved in that summer.

At the conclusion of one of those robberies, Demery had smashed an elderly woman over the head with a brick, Britt says. "His lawyers," Britt says, "recognized he was in a jam."

"We showed Larry what they had against him, and what could happen to him if he went to trial," Demery's attorney Hugh Rogers told reporters at the time of the plea. "'He looked at all the options, talked it over with his family and decided this was the best option."

The testimony

Green says he was upset but not shocked when Demery turned against him.

Less than a year later, Demery sat on the witness stand and offered jurors one of his many versions of how James Jordan was killed. With a shortage of physical evidence, the state relied heavily on Demery's testimony to make its case against Green.

The plan, Demery testified, was for him and Green to commit a robbery near I-95 and U.S. 74 in the middle of the night near a Quality Inn where the teens hoped to run across unsuspecting tourists.

While preparing for their crime, Demery said, the two teens noticed Jordan's red Lexus parked on a gravel strip just off U.S. 74.

At some point, Demery testified, Green made it known he wanted more than just money. He wanted the Lexus, Demery said.

Therefore, Demery testified, the friends hatched a scheme to wake the driver, to hold him at gunpoint and tell him to drive to a bridge near Green's home. Once there, Demery said, he and Green planned to bind their victim with duct tape and leave him by the roadside as they stole his Lexus.

The two friends, Demery said, spent several minutes "building each other's nerves."

"Daniel said, 'We're in this together.' We gave each other the high five," Demery testified.

The plan, according to Demery, hit a snag when Jordan began to wake as Green pointed his gun through the open passenger-side window. Without warning, according to Demery's testimony, Green fired.

"We both stood there and watched the man die," Demery testified. "I asked Daniel why did he do it. ... He just said, 'Hurry up and let's get him moved.'"

A 'gurgling sound'

In his handwritten statement drafted while in custody, Larry Demery describes the moment when he and Daniel Green dumped the body of James Jordan off a bridge:

"When we picked the body up from the car the body made a gurgling sound for about 5 seconds. The sound scared me so bad I almost dropped the body. When we dropped the body off the bridge, we got back into the car and left."

Green's attorneys, however, contend that Demery's accounts of what happened - not just on the night in question but at the exact moment of the murder - shifted significantly over time.

In the 15-page handwritten confession Demery signed at the time of his arrest, he asserted he had left the intersection of I-95 and U.S. 74 before Green ever approached Jordan's vehicle. Demery maintained he had driven back to Green's house, then walked to a nearby bridge when Green drove up in the Lexus with Jordan's dead body pushed into the passenger's seat.

Nearly two years later - shortly after accepting his plea agreement - Demery was interviewed by authorities over parts of four days at the Robeson County Jail.

It was then that Demery offered a statement asserting he was running away from the Lexus and toward his own car and was about 60 feet from Jordan's vehicle when Green fired the gun.

On the witness stand, however, Demery testified that he was beside the Lexus when Jordan was shot.

At the close of Green's trial, with a first-degree murder conviction delivered, the jury filled out its verdict sheet for the court. Within that detailed questionnaire, jurors concluded that Green was "a major participant in the underlying felony and exhibited reckless indifference to human life," enough by North Carolina law to merit a conviction.

But jurors also acknowledged that they did not find beyond a reasonable doubt that Green killed, attempted to kill or intended to kill James Jordan. That, Green's lawyers assert, is proof the jury did not find Demery credible.

Also included within Green's current motion is a November 2015 affidavit signed by Connee Brayboy, the former editor-in-chief of The Carolina Indian Voice, a now-defunct publication. In the sworn statement, Brayboy said she had spoken with Demery at the Robeson County Jail shortly after his 1993 arrest.

"During my conversation with Larry Demery," the signed statement reads, "Mr. Demery stated to me that he was the person who had shot and killed Mr. James Jordan. ... Larry Demery told me that he killed Mr. Jordan because he had witnessed a drug transaction. Larry Demery stated that the murder had taken place outside and not inside of Mr. Jordan's Lexus, as he later claimed at Daniel Green's 1996 trial."

According to the affidavit, Brayboy knew Demery's mother, Virginia, and chose not to publish Demery's confession "out of concern for the effect it would have on his mother. ... It was also not apparent to me at the time that Mr. Demery intended to testify that Daniel Green had shot James Jordan."

The loss

State's Exhibit 16. A snapshot from the 1996 murder trial of Daniel Green. A corpse hangs face down over a tree limb in Gum Swamp in South Carolina.

Three days earlier, James Jordan would have celebrated his 57th birthday. Instead, the father of Michael Jordan was an unidentified dead man in a swamp in the middle of nowhere.

Jordan's body was found Aug. 3, 1993, by a local fisherman. It had been in the water for about 11 days, decaying in such a manner that it was difficult to determine whether it was a man or a woman.

For the Jordan family, the emotional toll of James' death was pronounced. It was more than just the sudden loss of a loved one. It was the sudden loss of a loved one to a horrific murder that created so many questions and so much grief. And all of it under the intense spotlight that followed Michael Jordan everywhere.

Ultimately, James Jordan's ashes were interred at a small cemetery beside Rockfish AME Church in Teachey, N.C. In a private ceremony on Aug. 15, Michael said goodbye to his father. Only 52 days later, he bid an abrupt farewell to basketball.

On the first Wednesday of October, at a packed news conference inside the Berto Center in Deerfield, Jordan delivered seismic news, announcing his retirement from the NBA. The Bulls star handled the avalanche of attention with his usual charm and grace. Yet because of his larger-than-life presence and effervescent smile, it was easy to forget he was still a 30-year-old man dealing with the largest loss of his life.

"The most positive thing I can take from my father not being here with me today," he said, "is that he saw my last basketball game. And that means a lot."

For the past 25 years, Jordan and his family have dealt with James' death in a private manner, offering little public contemplation on the murder.

Through a spokeswoman, Michael Jordan declined an interview request for this article.

Multiple messages left for his mother, Deloris, at the James R. Jordan Foundation went unreturned.

Attempts to reach Michael's siblings Larry, James Jr., Roslyn and Deloris were also unsuccessful.

When Demery and Green were sentenced in 1996, each given life on first-degree murder convictions, no one from the Jordan family offered a victim impact statement. That's a rarity in murder cases. Yet the family expressed aversion to commenting publicly about the case and has stuck to that approach.

In the earliest weeks after the murder, questions arose on the array of oddities surrounding the case. Why, for instance, would James Jordan choose to park and sleep by the roadside when he was just a few hundred yards away from a Quality Inn that had rooms for less than $30 per night?

More significant, why had his family waited until Aug. 12 to officially report him missing, a full three weeks after he had last been seen and seven days after his Lexus had first been found by police in those far-off woods?

Three weeks after announcing his retirement, with the pain and confusion still raw, Jordan sat inside Harpo Studios, less than a mile from Chicago Stadium. Visiting with Oprah Winfrey for his first extended interview after his father's death, Michael remained stoic as he was pushed to explain the odd timeline of his father's disappearance.

Winfrey pressed Jordan on whether his family members wished they had sounded alarm bells earlier.

Jordan explained that his family knew James as someone who "chooses to do things very independently" and noted that his father would often venture off on his own for days at a time.

"That's how he was. He loved to get his time for himself," Jordan said.

Jordan also noted how his mother, Deloris, had offered reassurance about James' absence and insisted he felt no initial worry. "That," Jordan said, "was a relationship that she knew better than I."

Next February, Michael Jordan will turn 56, the same age his father was when he was murdered. In that October 1993 visit with Winfrey, Jordan was challenged on his characterization that his father had "passed."

"I know he had to pass," Winfrey countered. "But I think he was murdered. And the fact that he was murdered is a searing kind of pain. I mean, have you dealt with that? Have you accepted the fact that he was murdered?"

"No," Jordan responded. "Because I'm a very optimistic person in the sense that I don't look at the real bad part of it. I looked at it that no matter what happened to my father, he's not here."

Winfrey pressed Jordan on whether he'd ever want to ask Demery or Green why they had killed his father. "No," Michael said, "because I don't want to know. Because it probably would hurt me even more just to know their reasons. Because if it is, it's going to be totally meaningless for the reasons.

"It's better that I don't know."

A quarter-century later, many of the same questions about the murder remain unknown.

___

(The Chicago Tribune's Stacy St. Clair contributed to this report.)

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