After Nearly 20 Years Behind Bars Kalvin Michael Smith Is Free At Last

The wheels of justice turn slowly. One can only imagine the mental anguish that Kalvin Michael Smith and his family have endured over the years. Kalvin Michael Smith has been waiting nearly 20 years to regain his freedom. He was convicted in 1997 of brutally assaulting Jill Marker and robbing the former Silk Plant Forest. Today’s Winston-Salem Journal has some excellent coverage of Kalvin’s case, including a timeline. For a deeper look into the case, read freekalvinnow.org.

Kalvin Michael Smith has been in jail since January 1997. Kalvin voluntarily came down to the Winston-Salem Police Department to speak to Detective Don Williams, in order to clear his name. Two of Kalvin’s ex-girlfriends had accused him of committing the crime. Kalvin spoke with Detective Williams without a lawyer present. He thought it would be a simple matter of setting the record straight. He wasn’t there; he didn’t know Jill Marker; he had no motivation to commit the crime. Kalvin may not have been the best boyfriend, but he wasn’t a violent criminal.

Instead of a simple matter that should have taken an hour or less-Don Williams, a discredited detective who left the WSPD years ago interrogated Kalvin Michael Smith. He told the then 25-year-old Smith that he wasn’t going to be able to leave until he signed a statement saying he was at the Silk Plant Forest store December, 9 1995-the night of the assault and robbery. But the statement Kalvin Michael Smith signed was used to justify his continued imprisonment, not free him.

Yesterday, one month shy to the day of 21 years since that awful crime, a judge ruled that Kalvin Michael Smith had served his time and ordered that Smith be released from prison. The court ruled that Kalvin’s trial attorney, William Speaks failed to introduce mitigating factors that would have shortened the sentence he received for robbery.

Smith has already served the assault portion of his 29-year sentence. Due to a Department of Corrections computer glitch, Kalvin had to spend one more night in prison before his release. That’s one more day that the City of Winston-Salem and the State of North Carolina will pay him for. Kalvin deserves to be exonerated and financially compensated for nearly 20 years that were robbed of him.

Kalvin’s trial attorney was, to say the least, inadequate. Failing to present to the court factors that would have given Kalvin Michael Smith, a shorter sentence is just one of the ways Kalvin’s attorney failed him. His attorney was unable to present a defense. In exchange for presenting closing arguments last, Kalvin’s attorney presented zero evidence for Kalvin’s defense. He didn’t put Kalvin on the stand. He didn’t bring up the Kenneth Lamoureux, the man who almost certainly committed the Silk Plant Forest assault and robbery. His defense was that the state didn’t prove their case; therefore, the jury should find his client not guilty.

The assault on Jill Marker nearly killed her. It was a terrible crime that has left Marker in a vegetative state, requiring 24-hour care to this day. A jury in 1997, in “Winston-racist-Salem,” to quote Larry Little, was not going to casually find a black man innocent of assaulting and nearly killing a white woman. Kalvin Michael Smith needed a robust defense to counter the prevailing racism in the court and community. Instead, he was laid out on a silver platter for the D.A. to convict him without any credible evidence.

We should all be thrilled that Kalvin Michael Smith is finally free. But thus far, the blame for Kalvin’s wrongful conviction has fallen chiefly on former WSPD Detective Don Williams and Smith’s pubic defender. Williams and Speaks are low hanging fruit. It’s easy to put the blame on them, and they deserve their fair share of the blame, particularly Don Williams.

But there is more blame to go around. The Forsyth County D.A.’s office deserves responsibility for prosecuting another innocent black man, for being more interested in convictions than justice. Attorney General Roy Cooper also deserves a large share of the blame. Since 2008 Roy Cooper’s office has worked with the Forsyth County D.A. to deny Smith’s legal appeals. Smith’s supporters at the Silk Plant Forest Truth Committee have rightly criticized Cooper for defending Kalvin’s wrongful conviction without consideration of his innocence.

It’s great to see Kalvin Michael Smith, a free man! But as Smith’s supporters continue to work with the Duke Innocence Project to exonerate Smith, the roles of the Forsyth County D.A. and the Attorney General should be scrutinized further. Their indifference to an innocent black man rotting away behind bars years is alarming. We need to hold these powerful institutions accountable to eliminate wrongful convictions in the future. No one should have to repeat the injustices that Darryl Hunt and Kalvin Michael Smith have suffered.

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