It’s hardly a surprise that Michael Jordan turned down an interview request from the filmmakers behind “Moment of Truth,” a stunningly revelatory five-part IMDb TV documentary series about the murder of Michael’s father James Jordan and the subsequent investigation and trial. We would imagine the last thing MJ would want to do is revisit such a dark and tragic period from his life. So, we see Michael only in archival footage, most notably an interview with Oprah Winfrey in which he’s asked if he’d ever want to ask his father’s killers, “Why?,” and Michael replies, “No, because I don’t want to know. Because it would probably hurt me even more to know their reasons, because it’s going to be totally meaningless. It’s better that I don’t know.”
We get that. We respect that. Still, there are a myriad of unanswered questions about the tragedy as well as the trial and conviction of Daniel Green, who in 1996 was convicted of first-degree murder, first-degree armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery and was sentenced to life in prison in what appeared to be a slam-dunk case at the time but is at the very least worth re-examining.
The celebrity hook for “Moment of Truth” is of course the fact that James Jordan was the father of arguably the most beloved sports figure in the world at the time. But director Matthew Perniciaro devotes the vast majority of this exhaustively researched, well-documented and provocative film providing invaluable context and digging deep into the deeply flawed case against Green, from the questionable testimony of his criminal partner Larry Demery to the racially charged history of the county where the defendants lived to the borderline incompetent performances of not only Green’s first defense team but the prosecutor who went after him. “Moment of Truth” is filled with moment after moment of the truth being manipulated, bent and broken to serve various agendas.
The shorthand narrative of this story follows a distinct series of events. On July 22, 1993, James Jordan was driving to Charlotte, N.C., in a red Lexus when he pulled over to the side of the highway, apparently to get some rest. Sometime that night, Daniel Green, 18, and Larry Demery, 19 — two troubled teenagers with histories of criminal activities — approached the vehicle and robbed and murdered Mr. Jordan, whose body was found a week and a half later in a South Carolina swamp. (These small-time punks reportedly didn’t realize who their victim was until after the crime.)
Green infamously appeared in an amateur video, dancing and posing and preening while wearing an NBA championship watch and a 1986 All-Star ring Michael had given to his father. It was a sickening spectacle and further solidified the case against him and his partner Demery.
“Moment of Truth” doesn’t try to paint Green as innocent; he’s clearly guilty of accessory to murder after the fact at the very least. But it raises serious and quite reasonable doubts about whether Green was the triggerman, as Demery testified — or was even present when the murder occurred. Before getting into great detail about the numerous holes in the prosecution’s case against Green, the filmmakers provide a thorough history of long and often corrupt political and law enforcement communities of Robeson County, and explore the racially charged tensions between the Black, white and Native American populations. Even before the James Jordan tragedy, there’s enough corruption and crime and even murder to fill a docuseries.
Prosecutor Luther Johnson Britt, who came precariously close to causing a mistrial in his closing arguments, appears in a present-day interview, vigorously defending his actions and brushing aside any questions about Green’s guilt as jailhouse poppycock. Much more convincing are the interviews with Christine Mumma, an Erin Brockovich-like figure who has made it her life’s mission to vindicate wrongly convicted prisoners and is Green’s current lawyer; TV journalist Amanda Lamb, who has covered the case from the beginning and is in constant contact with him, and Chicago Tribune reporter Daniel John Wiederer, who wrote a comprehensive and well-researched piece in 2018 that raised many of the questions brought up in this series.
Green was convicted largely on the strength of Demery’s testimony, which has changed drastically time and again. Eyewitnesses claim Green never left a house party on the night Mr. Jordan was murdered. There was a noticeable lack of blood evidence in the car, one of several indications the murder took place elsewhere. Legitimate concerns are brought up regarding possible tampering with James Jordan’s shirt, a phone call placed from the car phone in the Lexus to the county sheriff’s drug-dealing biological son; and even the trajectory of the bullet that killed Jordan.
Daniel Green remains in prison and continues to maintain his innocence. Efforts to re-open his case and grant him a new trial or freedom have been denied. Last year, North Carolina officials announced Larry Demery will be released from prison in 2023. “Moment of Truth” has us wondering if the man who pulled the trigger that night in 1993 is the one who will remain behind bars — or the guy who will be free in a little more than two years.