PUBLISHED:November 10, 2016

Coleman on Kalvin Michael Smith release: "We’re going to keep at it until we exonerate him"

Kalvin Michael Smith, a longtime client of Duke Law School’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic, was released from in Forsyth County Correction Center on Wednesday after 19 years of incarceration.

In 1997, Smith received a sentence of 23 to 29 years after being convicted of the 1995 attack on Winston-Salem store clerk Jill Marker. Smith has continually maintained his innocence. Faculty, students, and alumni in the Wrongful Convictions Clinic have been working to gain his release since 2003.

Forsyth County Superior Court Judge L. Todd Burke commuted Smith’s sentence after one of his attorneys filed a motion calling for his release on the grounds that his lawyer during the sentencing phase of his trial was ineffective.

Clinic co-director James Coleman called Smith’s release a partial victory.

“I want to make it clear that this is just a first step,” Coleman told reporters and supporters after Smith’s release. “Michael should never have been in prison so letting him out now is not relief for his wrongful conviction. We’ve told him and we’ve said to our students, we’re going to keep at it until we exonerate him. That’s our goal and we begin work on that tomorrow.”

The Winston-Salem Journal published an investigative series in 2004 on the Silk Plant Forest Case, so named for the store where the attack on Marker occurred, calling Smith’s conviction into question.

In 2009, a citizens’ review committee formed by the city of Winston-Salem concluded in a report that it had no confidence in the police investigation and voted 7-2 that no credible evidence existed that Smith was at the scene of the crime. In 2010, a different citizens’ group hired Chris Swecker, a former assistant director of the FBI's criminal investigative division, to conduct an independent review of the police investigation. Swecker released a report in 2012 criticizing the police investigation and recommending a new trial for Smith. The North Carolina NAACP has been petitioning N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, for Smith’s release as well.

The governor’s office is currently reviewing a clemency petition filed by Smith’s attorneys.


More on Kalvin Michael Smith and the Silk Plant Forest case

Investigative series by Winston-Salem Journal

“It Takes a Village to Work for Justice,” Duke Law Magazine

Unlocking the Truth, MTV documentary