Recently, Michael Hewlett, the Winston-Salem Journal’s legal reporter wrote an excellent article on Kalvin Michael Smith. Smith endured over 20 years behind bars for a 1995 violent assault and robbery that he didn’t commit. Smith was released last November from the Forsyth Correctional Center on Cherry Street when the Forsyth County D.A.’s Office agreed that Smith had served enough time for the crime he was wrongfully convicted of.
Though Smith is out of jail he is struggling (as anyone in his position would be) to put his life back together.20 years is a long to time to have stolen from you. It might be a long road to recovery for Kalvin Michael Smith, it’s important for the community to continue to stand with Kalvin and help him reintegrate back into Winston-Salem, Forsyth County.
I am still amazed at the unprofessional and frankly racist actions of the WSPD and Forsyth County D.A.’s Office. How could they convict Smith, when all evidence pointed to his innocence? Why did they refuse to acknowledge that they put the wrong man behind bars?
Multiple objective outside parties (The Silk Plant Forest Citizens Review Committee, special investigator Chris Swecker and MTV’s Unlocking The Truth) have all concluded after reviewing the case that Smith was innocent of the charges that he was convicted of. Yet our state and local courts have refused to grant Kalvin Michael Smith a new trial. Smith hasn’t received the exoneration or compensation that he deserves because that would require the Forsyth County D.A.’s Office to admit fault.
Hewlett’s article is an intimate portrait of a man struggling to get by. No one just walks out of prison and starts over. The hellish experience of years of incarceration-modern day slavery remains with Smith. Smith is surrounded by a family that cares for him, but that doesn’t pay his bills. Getting shot (apparently a random crime) at the end of March appears to be the least of Smith’s problems.
In addition to an update on Smith’s condition, Michael Hewlett shed some light on the legal process that finally got Kalvin Michael Smith out of prison 8 months ago. Smith’s attorney’s filed a motion stating that Smith’s trial attorney failed to present evidence that would have potentially resulted in Smith receiving a shorter sentence. This has been reported in the Journal previously, but this was the first time that the city’s paper of record reported on the behind-the-scenes process that facilitated Kalvin Michael Smith finally getting out of prison.
When Smith was released last November, I thought that a backroom deal had been struck. How could the Journal report with certainty that Smith was about to be released? For years he went to court, only to have his appeals fall on deaf ears. The Journal and other local media outlets knew at the time that Smith was coming home days before he was released.
Smith’s release was a compromise between infighting attorneys that clearly don’t like each other. Essentially Kalvin Michael Smith was released because the Forsyth County D.A.’s Office and the N.C. Attorney General didn’t object to the sentencing relief motion filed on Smith’s behalf. Or as Smith’s attorney at the Duke Innocence Project put it, “Smith was released because everyone agreed he should be released. If Holton’s motion had been contested either by Forsyth County prosecutors or the N.C. Attorney General’s Office, it wouldn’t have been granted.”
For over a decade the Duke Law Innocence Project has been seeking justice for Kalvin Michael Smith. All they have asked for is a chance to present evidence of Smith’s innocence that wasn’t presented at trial. Smith deserved a new trial. But one judge after another chose to ignore the obvious red flags of a wrongful conviction in Smith’s case. Without DNA evidence, a modern get-out-of-jail card that no court can ignore, Smith continued to languish in prison year after year for a crime he didn’t commit.
Forsyth County D.A. Jim O’Neill and then Attorney General Roy Cooper let Smith out of jail, perhaps because they were tired of the case. O’Neill faced allegations of professional misconduct. Cooper was trying to rally Democratic voters to support him. Ignoring the innocence of Smith and other wrongfully convicted black males like Dontae Sharp was not something Roy Cooper wanted voters to know.
Smith’s release is another example of the huge amount of power that rests with both District Attorneys and the N.C. Attorney General. Without their cooperation, it is extremely difficult to overturn a wrongful conviction. This is the power of life and death. Jim O’Neill and Roy Cooper didn’t convict Kalvin Michael Smith. But their intransigence and complete disregard for justice are unacceptable. The Forsyth County D.A.’s Office needs a wrongful conviction division to review Kalvin Michael Smith’s case and others like it. It’s time that Forsyth County started valuing justice more than convictions.