Feb. 18, 2009 12:00

Silk Plant Forest committee feeling a major time crunch


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 we going to come together as a committee? We have to come together in public and agree on that language in 30 days? I said that to the city council. They didn’t care. At least, no majority of the public safety committee cared.”

The Silk Plant Forest committee went over its list of prospective witnesses and discussed the status of each. At every turn, it appeared the committee had hit a roadblock. Sgt. Byrum said after several unsuccessful attempts, he had finally made contact with Kenneth Lamoureux, an early suspect in the case. When Byrum asked Lamoureux if he would agree to be interviewed, Byrum said he responded, “That’s not going to happen.” According to a city of Winston-Salem administrative review of the case, two witnesses identified Lamoureux from a photographic lineup as being at the scene of the crime on the night of the attack, on Dec. 9, 1995. The witnesses gave their testimony to Williams.

The committee agreed they would like to include the results of polygraph examinations of Smith, Eugene Littlejohn, Pamela Moore and Andra Wilson in the report they submit to city council on March 17. Littlejohn and Moore testified against Smith during his 1997 trial, and Wilson acted as a police informant in the case. The committee also agreed it would like to administer polygraph examinations to all the Winston-Salem police officers involved in the original investigation, but Blynn notified the committee that Williams, Weavil and Maines had all refused to take polygraphs. Blynn noted that Detective MN Barker, who was originally assigned the Marker case, still worked for the police department and could be compelled to testify.

Blynn then turned to the subject of The Winston-Salem Journal denying the committee’s request to speak with former reporter Phoebe Zerwick. In 2004, Zerwick wrote a series for the paper on the Silk Plant Forest-Jill Marker case. Blynn referred to a letter the committee received on Feb. 11from thelaw firm of Everett, Gaskins, Hancock & Stevens, which represents the Journal. The letter came in response to a request from Blynn to explain why the newspaper was unwilling to compel or encourage Zerwick to testify before the committee. “I found the letter to be very unpersuasive,” committee member Bill Davis said. “A key ingredient in this allegation that DR Williams said to them that he withheld materials from the district attorney’s office and that would be something serious.”

“She’s the only one that has that information,” Davis continued and the news article is just worthless to us as an investigative body.It’s just not worth anything at all, but it would be, it should be if she would talk to us,” Davis said. “I find their position to be inexcusable on this, particularly when they’re writing all the articles and editorials telling this committee to do a thorough investigation. I don’t know how they justify their position.”

Blynn took issue with the Journal’s position that their actions put no one in danger. “If Kalvin Smith is innocent, everybody is in imminent danger because there’s someone out there who’s not in jail,” Blynn said. “There’s someone out there who’s capable of doing this crime and could do it again.”

The letter explained the Journal’s reason for not allowing Zerwick to speak with the committee, stating, “The concept of a reporter’s privilege is grounded in the fact that the freedom to publish or broadcast information is meaningless unless there is also a right to gather the information and protect it from compulsory disclosure.

‘Freedom of the press’ is a hollow concept if reporters are subpoenaed to produce their notes, drafts, resource materials and sources.”

In other business, the committee discussed a number of possible recommendations to alter current police procedure, including videotaping interrogations during felony investigations and requiring officers to audiotape interviews conducted in the field.

Davis asked the committee to consider giving officers some leeway in recording interviews, but Blynn strenuously objected.

Blynn cited the fact that Williams did not videotape his second interview with Marker in 1997 as one of the reasons the review committee was formed. Marker allegedly identified Smith as her attacker during the 1997 interview, but there was no audio or video record of the interview. Committee members also discussed changing department policy to administer polygraph examinations to all suspects and witnesses in felony investigations, and potential reforms to police procedure regarding proper handling of evidence and possibly requiring detectives to submit entire case files within 10 days of being assigned a case. Committee members continued to wring their hands about the short amount of time left to get everything they wanted into their report before March 17. Hollander said the committee must be diligent, because they are Smith’s last chance at justice.

“Get the truth out, that’s what I’m asking you to do,” Hollander said. “Will the DA do it? Of course not. Will the state attorney general? No.” Hollander then paused and looked in Carmon’s direction.

“Will my friend at the city attorney, is your office absolutely going to get this out? I wish I could 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)