Silk Plant Forest committee feeling a major time crunch

by Keith Barber

Citing time constraints, the citizen review committee charged with investigating Winston-Salem police procedure in the 1995 Silk Plant Forest-Jill Marker assault case said it could present a report of its findings Winston-Salem City Council without the key testimony of the lead investigator in the case or the man convicted of the crime. During its Feb. 12 meeting, the Silk Plant Forest Citizen Review Committee discussed the possibility of not interviewing Kalvin Michael Smith, who was convicted by a Forsyth County jury of brutally assaulting Marker during a 1995 armed robbery of the Silk Plant Forest shop. Committee chair Guy Blynn suggested committee members read the transcript of Smith’s testimony during his plea hearing for a new trial last month in Forsyth Superior Court, before they decide to direct independent investigators Sgt. Chuck Byrum and Lt. Joseph Ferelli to speak directly with Smith. “Why would we expect that he would say anything different or anything additional that was meaningful and what possible reason could he have at this stage not to submit to a polygraph test?” asked Blynn. During the public comments portion of the meeting, Jet Hollander, an advocate for Smith, refuted Blynn’s assertion regarding Smith’s willingness to take a polygraph. “That’s not true, that is not a fair characterization. He will take a polygraph if a few specific people also take a polygraph,” Hollander said. Hollander later stated that Smith has agreed to take a polygraph as long as Williams, and retired Winston-Salem police detectives Randy Weavil and Lonnie Maines also submit to polygraphs. Smith’s defense team contends that Maines administered a polygraph to Smith in 1996 and scored Smith’s statements that he had no involvement in the Marker assault as truthful. After Hollander’s rebuttal, Blynn admitted to the committee that he “misspoke” about Smith’s refusal to take a polygraph. Last week’s meeting is not the first time Blynn has raised the possibility of the committee not including the direct testimony of Kalvin Michael Smith in its report to city council. On Jan. 29, Blynn sent a letter to Mayor Pro Tem and Public Safety Committee chair Vivian Burke in which he stated: “We intend to prepare and provide a comprehensive document detailing the results of our investigation. Prior to the finalization of that report, we must await (i) the ability to review the transcript of certain testimony given during the recent hearing on Kalvin Michael Smith’s Motion for Appropriate Relief and (ii) the opportunity to question former Detective DR Williams.” The committee is expected to make a decision on whether or not to interview Smith during its next meeting on Feb. 23. During the Feb. 12 meeting, Winston- Salem City Attorney Angela Carmon informed the committee that she had filed a motion with the court to order Donald R. Williams, the lead investigator in case, to comply with the subpoena issued by the city council in November. Carmon said she had filed the motion that same day, on Feb. 12. The city council had instructed Carmon to file the motion Dec. 17, when Williams failed to respond to the council’s subpoena. Assistant City Manager Derwick Paige said Williams has 10 days to respond to the court order after the motion was served, but the retired detective could delay the process. “That’s the unknown,” Paige said. “It could go anywhere from three months to a year.” Committee chair Guy Blynn said he has spoken with members of the city council and the public safety committee regarding an extension on the committee’s deadline but his pleas have fallen on deaf ears. “My concern is we have 33 days to the 17th,” Blynn said. “How are wegoing to come together as a committee? We have to come together inpublic and agree on that language in 30 days? I said that to the citycouncil. They didn’t care. At least, no majority of the public safetycommittee cared.” The Silk Plant Forest committee went overits list of prospective witnesses and discussed the status of each. Atevery turn, it appeared the committee had hit a roadblock. Sgt. Byrumsaid after several unsuccessful attempts, he had finally made contactwith Kenneth Lamoureux, an early suspect in the case. When Byrum askedLamoureux if he would agree to be interviewed, Byrum said he responded,“That’s not going to happen.” According to a city of Winston-Salemadministrative review of the case, two witnesses identified Lamoureuxfrom a photographic lineup as being at the scene of the crime on thenight of the attack, on Dec. 9, 1995. The witnesses gave theirtestimony to Williams. The committee agreed they would like toinclude the results of polygraph examinations of Smith, EugeneLittlejohn, Pamela Moore and Andra Wilson in the report they submit tocity council on March 17. Littlejohn and Moore testified against Smithduring his 1997 trial, and Wilson acted as a police informant in thecase. The committee also agreed it would like to administer polygraphexaminations to all the Winston-Salem police officers involved in theoriginal investigation, but Blynn notified the committee that Williams,Weavil and Maines had all refused to take polygraphs. Blynn noted thatDetective MN Barker, who was originally assigned the Marker case, stillworked for the police department and could be compelled to testify. Blynn then turned to the subject of The Winston-Salem Journal denyingthe committee’s request to speak with former reporter Phoebe Zerwick.In 2004, Zerwick wrote a series for the paper on the Silk PlantForest-Jill Marker case. Blynn referred to a letter the committeereceived on Feb. 11from thelaw firm of Everett, Gaskins, Hancock &Stevens, which represents the Journal. The letter came inresponse to a request from Blynn to explain why the newspaper wasunwilling to compel or encourage Zerwick to testify before thecommittee. “I found the letter to be very unpersuasive,” committeemember Bill Davis said. “A key ingredient in this allegation that DRWilliams said to them that he withheld materials from the districtattorney’s office and that would be something serious.” “She’sthe only one that has that information,” Davis continued and the newsarticle is just worthless to us as an investigative body.It’s just notworth anything at all, but it would be, it should be if she would talkto us,” Davis said. “I find their position to be inexcusable on this,particularly when they’re writing all the articles and editorialstelling this committee to do a thorough investigation. I don’t know howthey justify their position.” Blynn took issue with the Journal’s positionthat their actions put no one in danger. “If Kalvin Smith is innocent,everybody is in imminent danger because there’s someone out there who’snot in jail,” Blynn said. “There’s someone out there who’s capable ofdoing this crime and could do it again.” The letter explained the Journal’s reasonfor not allowing Zerwick to speak with the committee, stating, “Theconcept of a reporter’s privilege is grounded in the fact that thefreedom to publish or broadcast information is meaningless unless thereis also a right to gather the information and protect it fromcompulsory disclosure. ‘Freedom of the press’ is a hollowconcept if reporters are subpoenaed to produce their notes, drafts,resource materials and sources.” In other business, thecommittee discussed a number of possible recommendations to altercurrent police procedure, including videotaping interrogations duringfelony investigations and requiring officers to audiotape interviewsconducted in the field. Davis asked the committee to consider giving officers some leeway in recording interviews, but Blynn strenuously objected. Blynncited the fact that Williams did not videotape his second interviewwith Marker in 1997 as one of the reasons the review committee wasformed. Marker allegedly identified Smith as her attacker during the1997 interview, but there was no audio or video record of theinterview. Committee members also discussed changing department policyto administer polygraph examinations to all suspects and witnesses infelony investigations, and potential reforms to police procedureregarding proper handling of evidence and possibly requiring detectivesto submit entire case files within 10 days of being assigned a case.Committee members continued to wring their hands about the short amountof time left to get everything they wanted into their report beforeMarch 17. Hollander said the committee must be diligent, because theyare Smith’s last chance at justice. “Get the truth out, that’swhat I’m asking you to do,” Hollander said. “Will the DA do it? Ofcourse not. Will the state attorney general? No.” Hollander then pausedand looked in Carmon’s direction. “Will my friend at the cityattorney, is your office absolutely going to get this out? I wish Icould say otherwise, but I don’t think so.”

Guy Blynn, chairman of the Silk Plant Forest Citizen Review Committee, listens to discussion among his fellow committee members during the group’s meeting at Winston-Salem City Hall on Feb. 12. The committee has been charged with looking into police procedure in the 1995 Silk Plant Forest-Jill Marker case, and is scheduled to present its recommendations to Winston-Salem City Council on March 17. (photo by Keith T. Barber)