QA With Kalvin Michael Smith
YES! Weekly staff writer Keith T. Barber traveled to Albemarle Correctional Institute in New London on March 5 and interviewed Kalvin Michael Smith, who is currently serving a sentence of 23 to 28 years at the medium-security prison. In December 1997, a Forsyth County jury convicted Smith of brutally assaulting store clerk Jill Marker during an armed robbery of the Silk Plant Forest shop in Winston-Salem. Smith’s plea for a new trial was denied by Forsyth County Superior Court Judge Richard L. Doughton on Jan. 8. Smith’s defense team, James Coleman of the Duke Innocence Project and David Pishko, argued that exculpatory evidence had come to light since Smith’s 1997 trial including recantations by two of the state’s witnesses. Doughton ruled that he would hear five of Smith’s claims during his motion for appropriate relief hearing in January. After four days of testimony, Doughton ruled that Smith failed to prove his claims. Theresa Newman of the Duke Innocence Project said Smith’s defense team will take the case to the NC Court of Appeals once Doughton hands down his official ruling.
YES! Weekly: Why are you sharing your story with a reporter? Kalvin Michael Smith:
A lot of people don’t know my side of the story. A lot of people never heard my side of the story because even during the trial, [William] Speaks, the so-called lawyer I had, we argued about me taking the stand. Nobody ever heard my side of what really went on. All they heard were the lies and the propaganda the district attorneys and the detectives have put out there. All of that is falsehood. All the way down to the police reports from the day I walked in the detectives’ office, all of it is a lie.
Do you see any parallels between your case and Darryl Hunt’s case?
I go back and I think about Darryl’s situation. If Willard Brown would never have confessed, and they never would have run his DNA, Darryl would still be in [prison]. Even when the DNA matched Willard Brown, [Forsyth County District Attorney] Tom Keith still tried to say Darryl Hunt was with the man and I have no physical evidence in my case so it’s a little harder for me. Weavil was involved in both [cases]. People lied in both; people took the stand and perjured themselves. Basically, all wrongful convictions fit the same pattern. I don’t compare my case to Darryl’s as what happened in this case. I compare it as what Darryl had to endure because I know how he felt. I feel the pain he felt. Nobody understands, man, being in prison, being incarcerated for something you didn’t do is like being buried alive. There’s no feeling to this.
What have you learned about the actions of police investigators and the Forsyth County District Attorney’s office since your conviction?
I heard something I never heard before all these years in January when I went back to court [for a plea hearing]. I never knew that Detective Weavil said he wrote the statement that I was coerced into writing. I never had any idea that he said he wrote that statement, but the only reason he said he wrote it was to corroborate [Detective Donald] Williams. Weavil was never even in the room when I was coerced and tricked by Williams into writing this statement. That was the first time I ever heard that was January when I went back for this hearing. Even Speaks never told me that. Weavil testified to that during the hearing before my trial to suppress the statement. He said he wrote it. I never even knew about it. As it goes on, I learn a lot of things. It seems like each month, I learn something new about the case.
Where were you on the night of Dec. 9, 1995? I have no idea. I don’t know. I know I wasn’t there. I never even heard of this place; I never heard of this place in my life. I didn’t know this place existed. I know I wasn’t there. I don’t have an alibi. Even a year later when they arrested me for it, I didn’t know where I was on a certain date. I know I wasn’t there.
Duke law professor James Coleman the Innocence Project got involved with your case in 2003. Has the Innocence Project’s involvement improved your chances at getting justice?
I feel now that I have some competent legal advisors and attorneys on my side now because Mr. Speaks sold me out. Mr. Speaks, he was working with the district attorney’s office. I feel like I have some people who are for me, who believe in me. When they came into this, they didn’t come into this biased. They came into this impartial when they investigated this. It doesn’t take a rocket science to see I didn’t do this. I feel optimistic about things, the further I go through the courts. I never was too optimistic about being helped with this [plea hearing] going back to Forsyth County; I never was. I knew they wouldn’t do the right thing. I tried to be optimistic about it, but deep down inside I knew they were going to put a monkey wrench in it. They don’t want the truth to come out of this.
How are you holding up?
People ask me how I feel, how I hang on. A lot of days, I’m just like a zombie in here. I’m taking it in stride, but I know I have to be strong. I can’t explain it to you, this feeling — this is the worst feeling. I wouldn’t wish this on nobody. I swear to God. I’ve been in here for almost 13 years for something I have no idea what happened in this place. I don’t know these people. I never heard of this place. I’ve been in here almost 13 years. It’s rough. My kids are growing. My dad’s getting old, my mom’s getting old, and I’m in prison for something I don’t know nothing about. But they don’t look at that. All they want to do is uphold their conviction and cover their butts. They don’t care; they know I didn’t do it…. My whole case is political. A lot of people don’t know this whole thing was behind ($9.25 million). If you look back at [former Winston-Salem Journal reporter Phoebe] Zerwick’s article, you’ll see that Williams was infatuated with the victim in the family, with what happened to Ms. Marker. I really hate what happened to her. I wouldn’t wish that on nobody but I would never do something like that. Marker’s medical bills were in excess of $1 million; they were getting ready to cut off her medical care; Lamoureux was the prime suspect…. Williams had to put this on somebody to make it look like a random act of violence and that’s what he did.
If there was one thing you could change, what would it be?
One thing I could change, I wouldn’t have been ignorant to the law. I wouldn’t have been ignorant to the law. I wouldn’t have been ignorant to interrogation procedures. And two, I would never have went down there to Williams’ office. I should never have went down there. I should never have went down there, but I had trust back then. I had trust that the people were there to serve and protect not there to coerce and to railroad. When I went down there, I went on the intention that, ‘These are the police. They wouldn’t do anything to hurt me.’ If I had any idea I was going down there to meet this crook, I would never have went down there and when I say crook, I mean a lying crook. He needs to be in prison.
Do you believe justice will be done in your case?
I look at it like this, I always keep my mind open to the fact that somewhere down the line, maybe it’s the appeals court, the federal court or the Supreme Court will look at this, do the right thing and overturn it. Also, being in the situation I am, on the other side, I have to keep in mind that I may have to do all this time. So on the one hand, I prepare myself to one day get out, but on the other hand, I have to stay firm and stay focused in here that I may have to do this time. I have to keep a balance with one side knowing I might have to do the time and one side keeping the window open I might be out of here soon.
Kalvin Michael Smith said if there was one thing he could change, he would never have responded to former Winston- Salem police Detective Donald R. Williams’ request to speak with him on Jan. 24, 1997. Smith said he was tricked and coerced into writing a false statement that he was at the scene of the Silk Plant Forest shop on Dec. 9, 1995 — the night store clerk Jill Marker was brutally assaulted. (photo by Keith T. Barber)