Keeping the Faith in Winston-Salem
On Oct. 16, Winston-Salem Assistant City Attorney Al Andrews filed a motion in Forsyth County Superior Court to release the final report of the Silk Plant Forest Citizens Review Committee’s findings, which includes 32 appendices, more than 5,000 pages of text, investigative notes, audio and videotapes. A hard copy of the city’s motion was not available at the
Clerk of Superior Court’s office on Monday morning, but the city posted the petition on its website later in the day.
I was pleased to see that the city finally step up and do the right thing. However, two questions remain: What took them so long? And, Will this make a difference in Kalvin Michael Smith’s case?
In December 1997, a Forsyth County jury found Smith guilty of brutally assaulting Jill Marker, a pregnant store clerk, at the Silk Plant Forest store in 1995. Smith has steadfastly proclaimed his innocence.
Smith’s plea hearing for a new trial in January was perhaps his best chance at getting justice in the courts. David Pishko, Smith’s attorney, put on a solid case that Donald R. Williams, the lead detective in the case, and the Forsyth County District Attorney’s Office had withheld exculpatory evidence from Smith’s defense team prior to his 1997 trial. Pishko made a case that Smith’s attorney, William Speaks, was “ineffective,” and put two witnesses on the stand — Eugene Littlejohn and Pamela Moore — who recanted their trial testimony.
Littlejohn and Moore said Winston-Salem police detectives coerced them to make false statements implicating Smith in the crime.
When Donald R. Williams took the stand, he admitted he did not document the fact he showed a photo lineup to Marker in 1996. Williams also admitted that he did not document the fact that Marker failed to identify Smith in the lineup photos. Rather, Marker appears to identify Kenneth Lamoureux, an early suspect in the case, in the videotaped interview.
Pishko established that Speaks never requested a copy of the lineup photos shown to Marker during the 1996 interview as evidence of the court-appointed attorney’s ineffectiveness.
Four days of evidence put on by Pishko raised grave concerns about the legitimacy of the verdict in Smith’s case. However, Superior Court Judge Richard L. Doughton saw it differently.
For nearly 18 months, the Silk Plant Forest Citizens Review Committee acted as “an independent fact finding citizen committee,” and reached their own set of conclusions. In its final report, the committee said it had did not have confidence in the Winston-Salem Police Department’s investigation.
By a vote of 7-2, the committee passed a resolution stating that it could find no credible evidence that Smith was at the Silk Plant Forest shop at the time of the Marker attack. Committee chair Guy Blynn authored a memo in the committee’s final report regarding the testimony of Donald R. Williams to the city council in June. Blynn addressed Williams’ answers to questions regarding handwritten revisions he made to a typewritten supplemental report in 1996 as “incredible.” Blynn described the changes the lead investigator made to the supplemental report as “a fictionalization of what really happened.”
On Sept. 21, the Winston-Salem City Council recognized committee members after accepting its final report.
Duringthe public comment period, Blynn told the council that his experienceswhile serving on the committee revealed a widely held perception in thecommunity that there are two justice systems in Winston-Salem — one forwhites and one for people of color. When one considers thepost-conviction DNA exonerations of Darryl Hunt and Joseph Abbitt, theveracity of Blynn’s assertion becomes crystal clear.
Blynn,the members of the committee, police investigators Lt. Joseph Ferelliand Sgt. Chuck Byrum should be commended for their outstanding work inthe creation of what is clearly a public document. Now it’s time forall the citizens of Winston-Salem to have access to the final report.The city seems to agree with this point of view.
“Thecommittee’s materials are of great interest to the citizenry,” thecity’s petition states. “The city council has determined that a fullrelease of the committee’s report, its appendices and related materialsis necessary and essential to maintaining public confidence in theadministration of city services.”
Inthe motion, the city is asking that a judge “make an independentdetermination that the full disclosure is warranted” while requestingthat a protective order be granted for confidential personnelinformation.
Holdon a second. So the city isn’t making a declaration that fulldisclosure of the report is essential to maintaining public confidence.It is entrusting that decision to a judge. This smacks of equivocationand offers a convenient excuse for City Attorney Angela Carmon, MayorAllen Joines and the members of city council if a judge refuses torelease the full report. Meanwhile, a man’s life hangs in the balance.
Letme make something clear to Carmon, City Manager Lee Garrity, city staffmembers, Mayor Joines and every single member of city council: You havea choice. It’s either a year’s worth of acute pain or 20 years ofchronic pain. If you’re worried about a potential lawsuit by Smith orthe specter of the police department having to reopen everyinvestigation Donald R. Williams participated in, and more potentiallawsuits, you better get over it. Swallow the bitter pill. It appearsan innocent man has been wrongfully imprisoned for more than 12 years.Step up to the plate, pass a resolution calling upon Forsyth DistrictAttorney Tom Keith to reopen the investigation, and if necessary,request a new trial for Smith.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Martin Luther King Jr. once stated.
Aslong as the city of Winston-Salem remains under the shadow ofinjustice, we will never be free of the bonds of institutional racism.But citizens have a choice on Nov. 3. If you take issue with the citycouncil on the release of the report, I encourage you to vote forchange. Two incumbents have already fallen in the primary. It’s time tomake a clean sweep and move forward as a community.