Johnson Britt had not taken office yet as the District Attorney for Robeson County, but he knew the trial was coming. Everyone knew the trial was coming. Investigators had arrested two men, Daniel Green and Larry Demery, and charged them with the murder of James Jordan, the father of pro basketball superstar Michael Jordan who at the time had won three NBA championships playing for the Chicago Bulls. As the DA in the district where the murder happened, Britt’s office would handle the prosecution of the two defendants.
“There was a lot of media coverage, not only of the arrests, but, in the aftermath, that there wasn’t really a case, and these two young men were being framed,” Britt remembers. “I believe there was a real belief that they were being seen as scapegoats for an investigation that no one really knew anything about.”
James Jordan had traveled to Wilmington to attend a friend’s funeral. After attending a dinner at the friend’s home on July 23, 1993, Mr. Jordan started driving back to Charlotte to catch a flight to Chicago, where he was supposed to attend a charity golf tournament his son was sponsoring the next day. He pulled his red Lexus off the side of Highway 74 near Lumberton to catch some sleep. Green and Demery, who both had lengthy criminal records, came upon the car, shot and killed Mr. Jordan, and later dumped his body in a swamp in South Carolina.
Britt goes into lengthy detail about the timeline of how investigators tracked down and linked Green and Demery to the murder of James Jordan. It begins around 9;15 of the podcast.
Mr. Jordan’s car turned up weeks later in a wooded area near Fayetteville. Investigators later found the individuals responsible for stripping the car and abandoning it. Those individuals identified two people that had shown up trying to sell the car, describing them as “a black guy named Daniel and an Indian kid”. Britt says that’s the first time Daniel Green’s name was introduced into the investigation.
Since Mr. Jordan’s car contained a cell phone, which was a novelty in 1993, agents began searching records of calls made from that cell phone to track Green and Demery’s trail.
“This is the first case to my knowledge where cellular telephone records had ever been used in a case in North Carolina, where literally you tracked the movement of what was going on based on where the calls were being made,” Britt says.
Investigators soon learned Green had a brother in the U.S. Army, stationed at nearby Fort Bragg. During questioning, Green’s brother said “Daniel and another guy had shown up at his house, driving a fancy red sports car”. When investigators went to the brother’s house near the base, they found several items scattered in the woods they believed belonged to Mr. Jordan, including a set of golf clubs with Michael Jordan’s name on the side of the golf bag. Green’s brother informed investigators he had told Daniel and Demery to “get rid of the stuff”.
Britt also talks about another crucial piece of evidence, a videotape of Daniel Green rapping about robbing and shooting people. In the video, which was shot by Larry Demery on a video camera the two had taken from a couple during a robbery after the James Jordan murder, Daniel Green is seen wearing a watch and rings that belonged to James Jordan. Although it was not allowed into evidence during the trial, the videotape helped confirm the suspects did indeed have possession of Mr. Jordan’s belongings.
Investigators arrested Green and Demery in August of 1993.
Johnson Britt was working then as an Assistant District Attorney in the 13th Judicial District covering Brunswick, Bladen and Columbus counties. He had heard about the murder of James Jordan, and even attended a hearing in Lumberton after the arrests of Green and Demery. Britt filed to run for District Attorney in Robeson County, which is Judicial District 16B, and he defeated the incumbent DA Riichard Townsend in the May 1994 primary. There was no Republican challenger in the race, so Britt was set to take office in January of 1995. Knowing he would be tasked with leading the prosecution against Green and Demery, Britt asked Townsend to turn over a copy of the case file. Townsend resigned before his term ended, allowing Britt to be appointed DA in December 1994 by then-Governor Jim Hunt. Almost immediately, Britt appeared in court handling motions hearings in the cases against Green and Demery.
Michael Jordan’s success on the basketball court pushed the case into national headlines. Court TV, which had grown in popularity while carrying the O.J. Simpson trial, asked to bring cameras in the courtroom to cover the trials surrounding the James Jordan murder. The request went to Judge Gregory Weeks, who had been appointed as “special judge” to hear the cases against Green and Demery.
“Judge Weeks, I think very wisely decided that cameras were not going to be there,” Britt says. “We saw in motions hearings that lawyers were playing to the cameras, as opposed to addressing him. They would literally turn and look at the camera that was there, and he was like ‘whoa, whoa, wait a minute. I’m over here!’ He ended up ruling that he was not going to let cameras in. He would let them in for pre-trial matters, but for the trial they would not be in.”
A turning point in the judicial process came when Demery agreed to a plea bargain. The judge had allowed a statement Demery made to investigators to be used against him at trial. He had confessed to his part in killing James Jordan. Demery agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder and testify against Green. Britt talks about how the deal came to fruition at 26:00 of the podcast.
Demery would go on to testify against Green in the trial, which began in January of 1996. Green never took the stand in his own defense. He was convicted on February 29, 1996 and sentenced in March to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Demery received a sentence of life in prison plus 40 years. Michael Jordan never testified in the trial, but Britt traveled to Chicago to meet with him in the days prior to the start of testimony.
IN PART TWO: In the second part of the podcast, Britt talks about going to trial with the evidence against Daniel Green and the subsequent sentence of life in prison handed down by the jury. Britt also speaks on Green’s continued legal attempts to secure a new trial and his claims that evidence in the original trial was tampered with by someone in a corrupt Robeson County Sheriff’s Office.
Although the James Jordan murder case is admittedly the biggest of Johnson Britt’s career, he’s handled many other high-profile trials in his 24 years as district attorney. Britt looks back on the Eddie Hatcher case, the investigation that brought down a sheriff, and the case that brought him to tears in court.
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