Committee: No credible evidence to link Smith to crime

by Keith Barber

By a vote of 7-2, the Silk Plant Forest Citizen Review Committee adopted a resolution that it could find no credible evidence to show that Kalvin Michael Smith was at the Silk Plant Forest store on Dec. 9, 1995 at the time of the attack on store clerk Jill Marker. The committee, formed by the Winston- Salem City Council last year to look into police procedure in the Silk Plant Forest case, adopted the resolution during a special meeting on March 17. Committee chair Guy Blynn said it would be included in the committee’s interim report to the city council, which was to be completed by March 20. The committee’s final report is due June 30. The resolution was originally proposed by committee member James Ferree and underwent a number of revisions during the March 17 meeting. After nearly two hours of discussion and negotiation, committee members Miles Foy, Sharon Cook, Cheryl Mouzon, James Taylor and Lois Mendezoff, along with Blynn and Ferree, voted in favor of the measure. Committee members Bill Davis and Barry Lyons voted against it. The discussion was spirited and heated at times. Lyons and Davis forcefully objected to the motion. Lyons read aloud the city council resolution that formed the citizen review committee. It stipulates the group is not to make a determination of Smith’s guilt or innocence, Lyons said, and if the committee included the resolution in its report, it would be going beyond the scope of its charge. Mendezoff disagreed with Lyons, pointing out that the resolution merely states there is no credible evidence to place Smith at the scene of the crime. She said the resolution does not make a claim about Smith’s innocence. Lyons referred to a statement in the committee’s interim report that the committee has no faith in the police department’s investigation of the case. He said that was more powerful than Ferree’s motion. He also argued that there was a good chance the city council would throw out the committee’s entire report entirely if it went outside the scope of its charge. Davis questioned the assertion there was no credible evidence to place Smith at the scene of the crime, citing the fact that Superior Court Judge Richard L. Doughton denied Smith’s plea for a new trial during a January hearing. Blynn countered Davis’ argument, saying Judge Doughton never stated he didn’t believe Smith’s claim he wasn’t at the scene of the crime. “The judge could’ve simply said, ‘Tie goes to the state. You didn’t carry your burden of persuasion, your burden of proof. You didn’t carry the ball.’ I think Kalvin Michael Smith’s side did,” Blynn said. “You’re clearly stepping over the line,” Davis responded.

Foy proposed a compromise, which included the members who supported the motion sending the resolution to city council in a separate letter. In the end, however, the committee agreed to include the statement it could find no credible evidence to place Kalvin Michael Smith at the scene of the crime. However, the committee inserted a number of caveats.

The resolution states the committee is not expressing any opinion about the trial, the conduct of the prosecution, the conduct of the defense, or the conduct of the jury deliberations. The resolution also makes clear the committee is not stating an opinion about Smith’s guilt or innocence. Blynn, Foy and Mendezoff spoke about joining police investigators Sgt. Chuck Byrum and Lt. Joseph Ferelli for a face-toface interview with Kalvin Michael Smith at Albemarle Correctional Institute on March 13. Smith is currently serving a 23 to 28-year prison sentence at the facility. Blynn, Foy and Mendezoff said the meeting with Smith was valuable in their understanding of the case. “There is something to be gained by hearing someone in person and get a sense of how they’re reacting to the questions,” Foy said. “From that standpoint, it was very valuable for me to see Kalvin Smith and speak with him directly.” Mendezoff said she was most impressed by the fact Smith answered all of the investigators’ questions directly and candidly. Mendezoff and Blynn both said they found Smith to be credible in his responses. Mendezoff said she was troubled by Smith’s assertion that his statement to police was written in his own hand. Smith’s account of him writing the statement while lead investigator DR Williams dictated it to him directly contradicts the testimony of Williams and former Winston-Salem police detective Randy Weavil during the plea hearing in January. Smith told investigators and committee members that he first heard Weavil’s claim that Weavil wrote the statement during the January hearing. At last week’s meeting, Blynn directed Sgt. Byrum and Lt. Ferelli to retain an independent handwriting analyst to determine who really wrote Smith’s statement to police.

Meanwhile, the debate continued. Carmon advised the committee that it was bound by city council resolution and state statute. “There is a question whether or not this resolution will supplant the courts, the District Attorney’s office and so forth,” Carmon said. “That’s why the council put that sentence in the resolution — it is circumscribed by that statutory provision.” Blynn said Carmon’s argument was flawed. “I’m not sure whether there is any court today that is charged with the responsibility of evaluating whether or not Kalvin Michael Smith was at the Silk Plant location on the night in question,” Blynn said. “What’s the consequence if we were to step over the line? Who’s going to sue us for damages? Who’s going to sue the city for damages?” “I think there is an issue, a serious issue as to whether or not it would violate the statute, because I think it does go to the guilt or innocence of Kalvin Michael Smith,” Carmon responded. Despite Carmon’s protests, the committee passed the resolution. An additional resolution proposed by Ferree to request city council pursue all legal avenues to have Smith freed from prison failed by a 2-6 vote. The remainder of the meeting was devoted to the committee poring over the interim report and public comments. After a brief review, the committee unanimously approved the interim report. Carmon declined to release draft copy of the committee’s interim report to YES! Weekly, saying the entirety of the report may not be a public record, and referred to a November 2008 order by Superior Court Judge Richard L. Doughton as the city’s rationale for not releasing the document. Despite the fact Doughton’s order states the majority of the committee’s report is public record, the city attorney’s office said it would take a separate court action to have the public document released. During the public comments portion of the meeting, a number of citizens spoke directly to the committee. Darryl Hunt thanked the committee for “taking a stand.” Hunt said if a citizen review committee had been assigned to his case that took a similar stand, he would not have spent 19 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. “If a man is innocent, he’s innocent,” Hunt said. “If you don’t say that, the court ain’t going to say it and no one else is going to say it.” Regina Lane, the fourth victim of Willard Brown, the man who ultimately confessed to Deborah Sykes’ rape and murder, also spoke to the committee. “My biggest concern is that we’re not leaving our community open for more attacks on people’s lives,” Lane said. Steve Boyd, a Wake Forest professor, told the committee he has been shocked by the actions of the police and the district attorney’s office in the Silk Plant Forest case.Boyd said the committee’s actions have begun to restore his confidence in the system. “There are people in this community who care,” he said. “There are people who are paying attention. It is that kind of oversight that makes our community and our lives safer.”

Silk Plant Forest Citizen Review Committee member James Ferreeauthored a successful resolution vindicating Kalvin Michael Smith(photo by Keith T. Barber)