RALEIGH, N.C. – 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.
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 North Carolina's 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 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 after Demery testified at their trial in 1996 that Green shot Jordan as he slept in his luxury car in Robeson County. Green has long claimed his innocence, telling WRAL-TV in 1998 that he was wrongly convicted of pulling the trigger. Attorneys have filed previous motions over the years for a new trial.
Green admitted in the interview that he drove James Jordan's Lexus and wore his watch as well as 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, is 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 North Carolina Tar Heels to the NCAA championship over Georgetown.
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, South Carolina, 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. And 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.
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."
Follow Martha Waggoner on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc