“It was the biggest case of my career,” is how Johnson Britt describes prosecuting the two men charged with killing Michael Jordan’s father.
James Jordan was shot and killed on July 23, 1993, near Lumberton. Investigators arrested Daniel Green and Larry Demery on murder charges in August, three months before Britt announced plans to run for District Attorney of Robeson County. When Britt won the election in 1994, the cases against Green and Demery had not gone to trial. It became clear that they would land on Britt’s desk.
James Jordan had traveled to Wilmington to attend a friend’s funeral. He had started driving back to Charlotte to catch a flight to Chicago but pulled his red Lexus off the side of Highway 74 near Lumberton to catch some sleep. Green and Demery came upon the car, they killed Mr. Jordan, and later dumped his body in a swamp in South Carolina.
In Part One of the interview, Britt went into detail about how investigators gathered the large amount of evidence against Green and Demery, the ruling by the judge to allow statements both defendants made into evidence, and Demery’s decision to accept a plea deal and testify against Green. That comes at 6:15 of the podcast.
“It was a very, very strong circumstantial evidence case against Daniel Green without Larry Demery,” Britt says. “With Larry Demery, it became an incredibly strong case.” Britt talks about trying to build a rapport with Demery, preparing him to take the stand in Green’s trial.
Britt says Demery was on the stand for almost a week during Green’s trial. One of the key elements, according to Britt, was Demery’s story that Green pulled the trigger and killed James Jordan had never changed, from the first time he confessed to investigators. Green never testified in his own defense.
“In the scheme of things, it became an easy case to try, because there had been so much prep put into it,” Britt remembers. “You could just put it into segments, and each segment built upon the previous. It culminated with Larry Demery.”
The jury found Daniel Green guilty of felony murder and conspiracy to commit armed robbery. During the sentencing phase of the trial, Britt pushed for Green to receive the death penalty for the murder of James Jordan. The jury recommended life in prison. Following Green’s sentencing, Britt moved to the sentencing phase for Demery. Another jury followed suit, also recommending Demery receive life in prison.
“Afterward we’re told they (the jury in Demery’s sentencing phase) gave him life because Daniel Green got life,” Britt says. “If Daniel Green had gotten death, they’d have sentenced Larry Demery to death.”
Britt had worked in the Robeson County District Attorney’s office shortly after graduating from Campbell Law School in 1987. But, Britt says he lost that job over a rumor that he planned to challenge the sitting DA for the office. After spending time in private practice, Britt landed a job as an Assistant District Attorney in the nearby 13th Judicial District. District Attorney Rex Gore hired Britt to handle Superior Court in Bladen and Columbus counties, giving him valuable experience prosecuting cases. Nothing like what was ahead in the James Jordan case.
“Truth be told, it’s the biggest case I’ve ever tried, and I’ve tried a lot of cases,” Britt says. “Cases that have received a lot of media attention. But, nothing on this scale.”
Work on the case consumed most of Britt’s waking hours. He credits his wife, Fordham, with providing a tremendous amount of support during that period. The couple had three small children, and Britt carved out time every day for much-needed family time.
“I’d get up, six o’clock in the morning, get ready to go to work, see them before they got off to daycare or school, and then I’d go to work and try this case,” Britt says. “I’d go home as quickly as I could after we recessed. We would have dinner together. I’d be there until it was time for them to go to bed. Eight or nine o’clock, I’d go back to the courthouse. There were many nights that I was at the courthouse until one or two o’clock in the morning. Just prepping. Going over what I was going to do.”
Since his conviction and sentencing, Daniel Green has pursued several legal options trying to get a new trial. Green has claimed that Demery killed James Jordan, and Green was just helping dispose of the body. His most recent attempt involves accusations that someone tampered with evidence during the investigation, and that bullet holes in the shirt James Jordan was wearing on the night of the shooting do not correspond with wounds he suffered. A n emergency judge had set a timeframe for new hearings on Green’s petition for a new trial. But, new law passed by the General Assembly removed the use of “emergency judges, forcing the case to be reassigned and delaying any hearings. Britt is convinced Green received a fair trial in 1996.
“This is not Daniel green’s first attempt to get a new trial,” Britt says. “The first time, he filed a Pro Se Motion. A lawyer was appointed to represent him. That lawyer was appointed with direction from the court to investigate his claims, review the records, and determine if there was a basis for filing the motion for appropriate relief for a new trial. That lawyer filed an affidavit with the court that said ‘in his professional opinion there were no issues to raise. Any that were appropriate were address in appeal’. A second lawyer was then appointed to again investigate. That lawyer did not file a motion for appropriate relief and eventually withdrew because of communication issues with Daniel Green.” Britt talks more about Green’s legal attempts at 9:15 of the podcast.
In his career as the DA in Robeson County, Britt has handled several other high-profile cases. They include Eddie Hatcher, who took staff of The Robesonian newspaper hostage over claims of corruption inside the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office. Britt also recently prosecuted Marques Brown, who was convicted of murder for the shooting death of Lumberton Police Officer Jeremiah Goodson in 2012. Although he was eligible for retirement in 2015, Britt remained in office, he says, in order to prosecute the officer’s killer. It was during that trial that Britt broke down and wept in court while reading a letter Officer Goodson’s daughter wrote to Brown. He talks about it at 38:30 of the podcast.
“I had the benefit of having that statement for a week,” he says in a somber tone. “I had read it. I’d read it many times. It never struck me the way it did until I read it in court.”
Johnson Britt’s 24-year-career as District Attorney will end in December. He plans to practice law, and also search for a new way to serve the public in the same way his parents did. You can listen to PART TWO of the interview with Johnson Britt on the free “1on1 with Jon Evans” podcast:
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