Matthew Perniciaro’s docuseries recounts the murder of Michael Jordan’s father James, and asks whether or not the wrong man is in jail for it.
On July 23rd 1993, James Jordan, father of basketball superstar Michael Jordan, was driving from a funeral in Wilmington, North Carolina to his home in Charlotte. About halfway through the trip, Jordan pulled off to the side of the highway in Lumberton to rest. He was never heard from again.
On August 3rd 1993, a fisherman found the body of a decomposed man in a South Carolina swamp. Ten days later, dental records confirmed the man was Jordan. Unsurprisingly, there was immense pressure from the public to find Jordan’s killer. The break in the case came when they accessed the call records from Jordan’s car phone. The people accused of selling the stolen car were quickly caught but shown not to have any connection to the murder. They pointed towards teenagers Daniel Green and Larry Demery, who gave them the car to sell. Green denied the involvement of either him or Demery in the murder, but Demery pled guilty while implicating Green.
In 1996, Green was convicted of first-degree murder, first-degree armed robbery, and conspiracy to commit armed robber and was sentenced to life in prison. It seems like an open and shut case, but Matthew Perniciaro’s latest docuseries Moment of Truth sheds some doubt on the verdict, calling into question Demery’s testimony in a story that is both intriguing and infuriating.
The five-part series starts out in an expected manner by giving a brief biography of James Jordan and the details of the crime. The first episode ends with Daniel Green dancing on video with Jordan’s belongings, giving a damning portrait of the young man. But while the next episode starts out touching on this, it quickly pivots to the sordid history of Robeson County, where the defendants lived.
In the subsequent episodes, Perniciaro reveals the racial divide between the white, Native American, and black populations. Most of the second episode details the corruption of Sheriff Hubert, whose actions as sheriff incensed the Native American population to the point where a group stormed the local newspaper office demanding his removal. Perniciaro concurrently explores the death of Julian Pierce, a lawyer running for superior court judgeship for Robeson county who was killed in suspicious circumstances before the election.
Matthew Perniciaro’s latest docuseries sheds some doubt on the verdict, calling into question Demery’s testimony in a story that is both intriguing and infuriating.
Initially, this history lesson seems like a non-sequitur to the Jordan case, but in truth, it is a vitally important part of the story. No investigation happens in a vacuum, and for Perniciaro to make the case that Green may be innocent he needs to show how Robeson county has failed in their previous investigation.
Not only does Perniciaro excel at showing the shady history of Robeson County, but he also makes a great case for Green’s possible innocence. The third episode details his history, casting a sympathetic light on the man by showing his turbulent childhood while acknowledging that he made mistakes. Neither Green nor the filmmakers paint Green as completely innocent, as Green himself admits his complicity in stealing from Jordan as well as other crimes. The purpose of Moment of Truth isn’t to exonerate Green of everything he’s been charged with, just to clear his name of murder.
The rest of the series details the trial and its aftermath, with the intention of showing that the case was mishandled at best, a complete fraud at worst. Interestingly enough, the only person from the trial who is a consistent presence in the interviews is the erstwhile villain of the show: Johnson Britt, the DA who ran against Julian Pierce and ran the prosecution against Green. Britt’s history (he aggressively pursues the death penalty and has been accused of misconduct in one-third of his cases) make him a natural antagonist, Moment doesn’t show him as a man who made a mistake but as a man who knowingly follows a poor case to ensure a quick conviction.
The rest of the series details the trial and its aftermath, with the intention of showing that the case was mishandled at best, a complete fraud at worst.
Britt’s foil, as it were, is Green’s current lawyer, Christine Mumma. As the director of the Center of Actual Innocence, she’s made it her mission to help those she believes were wrongfully convicted. As such, her role is to poke holes in the prosecution, showing where there may have been evidence that was ignored, and counter claims made by the prosecution. Throughout each episode, she is Green’s biggest champion, creating a compelling case for his innocence.
Asides from Green, Britt, and Mumma, the rest of Moment of Truth is filled with the usual suspects of a docuseries: archival footage, recreations, and commentary from journalists that gives context to the case. Perniciaro draws out the details of the story in a tantalizing way, constantly feeding the audience additional information and revelations without feeling like he’s trying to create twists for shock value. The showrunners know they have a compelling story, and they know how to tell it with maximum impact.
Ironically, Moment of Truth barely touches on the most sensational aspect of the case: the celebrity of the victim, James Jordan. After the first episode, not much attention is paid to the Jordan family. While this may be a disappointment to those looking for a salacious look into a celebrity’s pain, this omission is to the benefit of the story. The Jordans declined to be part of this series, and who could blame them? From all evidence, James Jordan was killed because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time with no prior relationship to his killers, and his family wouldn’t have any additional information to add about the case.
As of the writing of this review, Green has not been able to appeal to a retrial and is still in prison. It’s no secret that true crime shows and podcasts have caused quite a few cases to be reopened, and I have no doubt that this is the goal of Moment of Truth. I do think that the show creates a compelling case to give Daniel Green another chance for trial, and that’s the highest praise I can give it.
Moment of Truth premieres on IMDB TV April 2.