When justice is deferred
On Jan. 8 in Forsyth County Superior Court, Judge Richard Doughton listened to lawyers take the state’s case against Kalvin Michael Smith apart piece by piece in a quest to gain a new trial for the defendant. Smith, who was imprisoned in 1997 for the beating of Silk Plant Forest employee Jill Marker.
Two key witnesses recanted their accusations against Smith, saying they had been coerced. Ineptitude on the part of Smith’s court-appointed lawyer, William Speaks, was demonstrated by Smith’s new lawyer, David Pishko, who revealed that Speaks failed to analyze key pieces of evidence, including a surveillance videotape that he says he didn’t even look at based on advice from the police department. Nor did he request the photo lineup from which Marker failed to identify Smith as her attacker. In fact, Speaks didn’t even know that Marker had failed to identify Smith in the lineup. Mishandling of the case on the part of lead investigator, retired Detective Donald R. Williams, was shown by his admitted failure to document a 1996 interview with Marker and his decision not to videotape a subsequent meeting with her in Ohio in 1997; his written report of the meeting states that Marker did identify Smith as her attacker. Judge Doughton listened to the testimony for four days. Then, after closing arguments, he sat on his bench for a moment and then, with no elaboration or fanfare, made his judgment. “It is my conclusion that the defendant has failed to prove his claims,” he said. To which we say: “Whaaaa?” It seems to us like Kalvin Michael Smith is getting a raw deal here, and there are undoubtedly echoes of the Darryl Hunt case. Remember, it was in 1994, just one year before Smith was arrested, that Hunt was denied a new trial after DNA evidence collected at the scene proved to be from someone other than Hunt. There were problems with the Winston-Salem Police Department back then, systemic problems relating to race and corruption and good old-fashioned ineptitude. And we are fairly confident that the city has dealt with these issues in recent years. But the Kalvin Michael Smith case is a holdover from those days that the city is anxious to leave behind. And Winston-Salem has much to lose if Smith’s conviction is overturned. After serving 19 years for a crime he did not commit, Hunt accepted the city’s $1.65 million restitution without haggling. Smith might not be so charitable. Plus, there is the matter of Detective Williams. If Smith goes free, then everyone Williams ever put behind bars will have a cause for appeal and, perhaps, the opportunity for a seven-figure payday courtesy of the Camel City. If this were just about the money, we might be more inclined to accept Judge Doughton’s verdict. But there is a man’s life at stake here. And until he gets a new trial, Winston-Salem will never be able to fully let go of its checkered past.
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Winston- Salem has much to lose if Smith’s conviction is overturned.