April 8, 2009 12:00

Smith supporters call for justice during rally

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Amid a cacophony of street sounds arising from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Winston-Salem on April 4, the recorded voice of Kalvin Michael Smith played over loudspeakers in front of the Galilee Baptist Church. A hush fell over the roughly 25 supporters who gathered on the church’s front lawn during an innocence rally for the man convicted of brutally assaulting store clerk Jill Marker during an armed robbery of the Silk Plant Forest shop in 1995. Wake Forest University professor Steve Boyd held a microphone close to an MP3 player to amplify Smith’s words. Smith thanked those in attendance for their show of support.

“In the eye of this storm of adversity, I drink from the well of my faith that justice will turn a right and truth and justice will prevail,” Smith said. “I stand firm on the hope and belief that when it is time for truth and justice to be triumphant that nothing nor anyone will be able to stop it from manifesting itself.”

Smith said that for the 4,450 days he’s been sitting behind bars, the true perpetrator of the crime has been free. Smith is currently serving a sentence of up to 28 years at Albemarle Correctional Institute in New London. Afterwards, Darryl Hunt issued a call to action for Smith’s supporters. Hunt began his remarks by explaining the significance of the day. “History will tell us that Dr. Martin Luther King was killed April 4, 1968 fighting for social justice,” Hunt said. “That’s why we’re here — to fight the fight for social justice, justice for Kalvin Michael Smith. I am Kalvin Michael Smith. You are Kalvin Michael Smith. We are all Kalvin Michael Smith, because today, it’s him that’s locked up. Tomorrow it could be you. It could be me again.

None of us are excluded.” In 1984, a jury convicted Hunt of the rape and murder of newspaper editor Deborah Sykes. He was eventually exonerated when DNA evidence revealed his innocence, but only after he spent 19 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. The parallels between Hunt’s case and the case of Smith came to serve as the underlying theme at the rally. Boyd said the similarities between Hunt’s case and that of Smith should be troubling for all Forsyth County residents.

“I’ve seen people in the DA’s office withhold evidence from the defense,” Boyd said. “I’ve seen them pursue cases that were fatally flawed and they should have known it. That doesn’t inspire confidence in this system.”

The first step toward restoring that confidence would be for the Winston- Salem City Council to act upon the recommendation of the Silk Plant Forest

Citizen Review Committee that there is no credible evidence to link Smith to the Marker assault, Boyd said. James Ferree, a member of the citizen review committee, attended the rally.

Ferree put forth the recommendation that the committee’s independent investigation revealed no credible evidence to place Smith at the scene of the crime. By a vote of 7-2, the committee approved Ferree’s resolution on March 17. The committee’s interim report, submitted to Winston-Salem City Council on March 20, also included a recommendation that the group had “no faith” in the Winston-Salem Police Department’s investigation. The committee’s final report is due June 30. Ferree said the city council should act on the recommendation by calling upon Forsyth County District Attorney Tom Keith to reopen the investigation, and then issue a broad statement regarding Smith’s innocence.

“The city council should make a statement in reference to freeing Mr. Smith. They ought to take that necessary step,” Ferree said. NC Rep. Larry Womble (D-Forsyth) also spoke at the April 4 rally. He joined Ferree in calling upon the city council to act on the recommendations of the Silk Plant Forest Citizen Review Committee.

Ultimately, Smith’s fate could lie in the city council’s hands, Womble said. “Once the truth comes out, I’m sure that Kalvin will be exonerated and vindicated but until the city council takes that action, it’s going to be very difficult for that to happen,” Womble said. “The truth crushed to the ground in this case will rise again and once the full story is told, he will be exonerated. He will be let go.” Rep. Earline Parmon (D-Forsyth) attended the April 4 rally as well, but did not speak to the crowd. Parmon has previously stated her support for the citizen review committee’s recommendations. Hunt said the committee’s courageous action should open the door to a re-examination of Smith’s case. “What we’re demanding is that the city council inform the police chief to reopen the investigation in this case so the real [perpetrator] can be apprehended, and Kalvin Smith can be free from injustice,” Hunt said. “That’s what we’re demanding.

We’re going to make it plain because elections are coming up this year for the city council and we’re going to let them know how we feel.” Hunt lamented the small number of supporters at the rally, but expressed confidence that “the movement” to free Smith would continue to grow in time. He cited the municipal elections this fall as an opportunity for Smith’s supporters to let their voice be heard.

“I guarantee you by election time, we will be at every poll letting everybody know what [city council members] did or did not do, because if it was their kid that was locked up, they would want somebody to stand up and fight for them and do the right thing,” Hunt said. “They’re in a position to do the right thing and we’re demanding they do the right thing and free Kalvin Michael Smith today.”

On Monday, Forsyth County Superior Court Judge Lindsay R. Davis set a hearing date for former Winston-Salem police Detective Donald R. Williams, the lead detective in the Silk Plant Forest-Jill Marker case, to respond to a summons issued by the Winston-Salem City Council. Williams is scheduled to appear in court Thursday at 9:30 a.m. to respond to his petition to the city council’s summons. On March 20, Williams’ attorney Carl Parrish filed a response to the city council’s motion to enforce a subpoena to have Williams speak directly to the council about his role in the Silk Plant Forest investigation. The council issued the summons in December after Williams failed to respond to the city’s subpoena. Williams’ response in court documents includes an allegation that the Silk Plant Forest Citizen Review Committee has gone or attempted to go far beyond the city council resolution that brought it into existence.

The petition states the committee “has now gone into the judicial arena in that they are attempting to determine the issue of guilt or innocence of one Kalvin Smith.” 

Williams’ petition also requests the court to enter a gag order on the committee so they may not release any information to the public or press.

A number of city council members expressed the view that the committee should remain within its scope of making recommendations on reforms to police procedure during a meeting in February. Mayor Pro Tem Vivian Burke emphasized it was never the committee’s purpose to investigate Smith’s guilt or innocence.

“We are not the justice system. We are the city council,” Burke said. During the April 4 rally, Hunt took exception to the council’s position, stating that Winston-Salem voters will have the last word on that issue.

“We know that their argument is they are not the courts — they are the courts,” he said. “We’re all the courts. We’re the ones that make the decision. We’re the ones that give the us.

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