Review of SBI errors revives years-old questions about physical evidence in Jordan murder case

By Mike Baker, AP
Thursday, August 19, 2010

Lab mistakes revive questions about Jordan murder

RALEIGH, N.C. — The man convicted of killing Michael Jordan’s father went to prison in part thanks to testimony that he pointed a gun through a car window and fired the fatal shot from just inches away.

Given the gruesome portrayal, Daniel Andre Green’s defense attorneys repeatedly questioned why so little — if any — blood was actually found in that vehicle, and one of the lawyers once laughed in court when downplaying the physical evidence. Their arguments could be bolstered by an independent report this week that concluded the state’s crime lab mishandled his case and nearly 200 others over a 16-year period ending in 2003.

“It looks like it’s going to be something pretty significant,” Green’s current attorney, Scott Holmes, said of the report released Wednesday.

The outside inquest has led state prosecutors to request a more detailed review of all the investigations, and even lawyers in cases unrelated to the audit hope the lab’s mistakes could help them win new trials.

James Jordan’s 1993 murder offers a glimpse into how the State Bureau of Investigation’s errors could threaten years-old convictions. An SBI expert testified at trial that she found a small amount of blood in the passenger seat of Jordan’s car. But according to this week’s review, the SBI found only “indications” blood was present in an initial test, and four follow-up tests were inconclusive.

Green’s trial lawyers admitted that he helped dispose of Jordan’s body and drove Jordan’s car, but the lawyers denied that Green killed him and tried to cast doubt on key testimony by his co-defendant.

Angus Thompson, one of Green’s trial attorneys, said he was reviewing the details of the case but didn’t think the SBI ever disclosed the inconclusive follow-up tests.

“The fact that were four other tests done is critical,” Thompson said. “It should have been disclosed. It certainly is exculpatory evidence.”

The outside review found scores of similar flaws. It said SBI blood analysts omitted, overstated or falsely reported blood evidence in 190 criminal cases and that information that could have helped defendants was sometimes misrepresented or withheld.

An assistant for Michael Jordan, now owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, didn’t respond to calls seeking comment Thursday. Two months after James Jordan’s body was found, the emotionally drained star walked away from basketball at the peak of his career to play minor league baseball — his father’s first love — for two seasons before returning to the NBA.

In a 1996 trial that captured the country’s attention, Green’s lawyers questioned why there was so little blood evidence when co-defendant Larry Demery had said James Jordan was shot at near point blank range in the vehicle where he had been sleeping. They theorized that Demery was actually the killer.

Past attorneys for Green, who changed his name to Lord D.A.A.S. U’Allah, have also noted there was no conclusive match between what authorities said was the murder weapon and a bullet in James Jordan’s body, nor was there gunshot residue in the car.

Holmes, Green’s current lawyer, said he is already working on an appeal unrelated to the blood evidence, but would look closely at the SBI report. He declined to discuss further details.

Prosecutors have said that Jordan was shot and killed in July 1993 after a nap in his Lexus, which he had parked at a North Carolina interstate rest stop while driving home from a funeral. His body was found a couple of weeks later in a South Carolina swamp.

Johnson Britt, who prosecuted the case in Lumberton and still serves as district attorney, said he’s confident Green’s murder conviction would stand if challenged. He pointed to the fact that Green used Jordan’s car and cell phone, and that the weapon authorities say killed Jordan was found in his home.

“There was a lot of evidence that linked him to the commission of that crime,” Britt said. He believes Green pulled the trigger.

Jurors were also shown a video of Green dancing while wearing a watch and two NBA rings the basketball star gave his father.

But Green’s lawyers argued at the time that he had nothing to do with the killing and that Demery, who testified against Green, was coerced into pleading guilty to murder to save himself. The defense called four witnesses who testified that Green was with them watching television at the hour Jordan was killed.

The case that prompted the SBI lab review also hinged on blood evidence from a car, and it ended in the exoneration of a man who spent 16 years in custody for a murder he didn’t commit. At Greg Taylor’s innocence hearing this year, attorneys proved there was no blood on his SUV despite a previous SBI report indicating there was. An SBI agent testified this year that the agency had a policy of writing on lab reports that a test showed “chemical indications for the presence of blood” even when a follow-up test didn’t confirm that result.

The outside report by two former federal law enforcement officials does not conclude that any innocent people were convicted, and in some cases there was additional evidence or admissions of guilt. But based on the report, Attorney General Roy Cooper has ordered prosecutors and defense lawyers to check whether tainted lab reports helped lead to confessions or pleas.

Lawyers for inmates on death row, including some not included in the audit, are already meeting or planning to meet with their clients, said Gerda Stein, spokeswoman for the Center on Death Penalty Litigation.

“We need to reinvestigate the case of every single person on death row,” she said.

Attorney David Rudolf, who represented author Mike Peterson in a high-profile murder case, said he would review testimony given in that trial by the SBI agent involved in five cases the report characterizes as the most egregious violations.

Peterson’s case was not flagged in the SBI report this week, but Rudolf said the review only begins to expose how agents can stretch or hide the truth.

“That’s the tip of the iceberg,” Rudolf said. “If they’re willing to hide the truth in one circumstance, how can you not assume that they were not willing to do it in a much easier circumstance to do it?”

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