PUBLISHED:August 18, 2016

Wrongful Convictions Clinic client featured in new MTV series

Kalvin Michael Smith in courtroom, photo by David Rolfe, Winston-Salem Journal

A client of Duke Law’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic will be featured in “Unlocking the Truth,” a new documentary series on MTV.

Kalvin Michael Smith, who was convicted for the 1995 assault and robbery of a pregnant Winston-Salem store clerk, is one of three men asserting their innocence whose cases the show will investigate. Duke Law students, faculty, and alumni have been working since 2003 to release Smith, who has maintained his innocence while serving 18 years of a 29-year sentence.

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.

In January, the North Carolina Court of Appeals denied Smith’s petition for an evidentiary hearing to consider the veracity of a police officer’s affidavit in the case. The affidavit, which stated that the victim said at the crime scene that her assailant was a black male, contradicts the officer’s written report at the time of the assault. For several months after the crime, the police department’s initial suspect was a white man. The petition is now before the North Carolina Supreme Court.

“The more facts we have uncovered, the more certain we are that Kalvin Michael Smith is innocent,” said James E. Coleman, the John S. Bradway Professor of the Practice of Law and co-director of the Wrongful Convictions Clinic. “What has been especially frustrating for us is that nobody in a position to do anything about it seems to care. Because our effort to free him has gone on so long, there is a danger the public will start to tune out. We hope the MTV series will bring renewed attention to this miscarriage of justice.”

“Unlocking the Truth” will also examine the case of Michael Politte, who is serving a life sentence after being convicted of murdering his mother. The show’s co-host, Ryan Ferguson, was himself exonerated after serving part of a 40-year sentence for a murder he did not commit.

“Ten years was taken from me,” said Ferguson in a trailer for the series. "If I can stop them from putting innocent people in prison, that 10 years will have meant something."

“Unlocking the Truth” will cover Smith’s case with the episode airing on Aug. 24 at 11 p.m. Eastern.