Advocates vow to win justice for Kalvin Michael Smith

Advocates vow to win justice for Kalvin Michael Smith
September 18
00:00 2014
(pictured above:  August Dark, Kalvin Michael Smith’s father, speaks to supporters at Lloyd Presbyterian Church.)

For Darryl Hunt, Sept. 11 was a day of infamy long before 2001.

On that day in 1984, Hunt, then only 19, was arrested by Winston-Salem Police in connection to the murder of Deborah Sykes a month earlier. Three days later, Hunt was charged, setting off a two decade-long nightmarish ride through the very worst of the criminal justice system.

With alacrity, a white jury convicted African American Hunt of killing Sykes, a white woman. He was saved from death row by just one vote. His supporters – who from the start questioned every aspect of the case, from the equivocal witnesses to the shoddy police work – helped to win him a new trial. It ended much like the first one, and Hunt was returned to prison, where he would remain until December 2003, when DNA collected at the crime scene was matched to that of another man – Willard Brown.
Last Thursday, 30 years to the day of his arrest, Hunt thanked a roomful of supporters for never giving up on him.

Darryl Hunt speaks.

Darryl Hunt speaks.

“I always believed and knew how God works through people. He sent people to save my life,” said the 49-year-old.

During his remarks in tiny Lloyd Presbyterian Church – where his supporters held their first organizing meetings three decades ago – Hunt wore a blue shirt that declared “I Am Troy Davis” as a haunting sign of what could have been. Hunt was among those who rallied for Davis, whose 1989 murder charge is riddled with unanswered questions, before the state of Georgia executed him on Sept. 21, 2011.

Hunt used the bitter anniversary to remind supporters and others that there are many more like him – men whose only crimes were being black and expedient for police and prosecutors.

“For me it’s personal,” Hunt said of his efforts to free the wrongfully convicted. “This is 2014, and we are still dealing with the same problems.”

He mentioned half-brothers Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown, who earlier this month were released from North Carolina prisons after DNA evidence proved they did not commit the 1983 murder they were convicted of. McCollum was on seath row, while Brown was serving a life sentence.

While stories of men and women being freed for crimes they did not commit are common, Hunt is more than a little frustrated that law enforcers here in Winston-Salem have seemingly learned little from his unjust ordeal.

He is fighting for the release of Kalvin Michael Smith, a black man whom Winston-Salem Police arrested in 1995 for the brutal beating of a white woman, Jill Marker. The parallels between the Hunt and Smith cases are startling, say rights advocates, in their scantness of evidence and investigatory malfeasance.

“They create the letter of the law as they go along,” said Hunt, who said that prosectors themselves should be jailed for pursuing cases that they know have no merit.

Larry Little points to a picture of Smith as Darryl Hunt looks on.

Larry Little points to a picture of Smith as Darryl Hunt looks on.

For several years now, there has been a full-scale effort to win Smith a new trial. Hunt himself got the ball rolling during his post prison release press conference when he talked about the need to help others who have been wrongly convicted. He invoked Smith’s name. It was the first time that many, including Hunt’s longtime supporters and legal team, had heard of Smith.

Since then, both a City Council-appointed review panel and an independent investigation by former Assistant FBI Director Christopher Swecker have concluded that there was no credible evidence to arrest or convict Smith, who has served about 15 years of his more than 23-year prison sentence.



“It is unequivocal in my mind: there is nothing linking Kalvin Michael Smith to this terrible crime … He was not there,” said Jet Hollander, one of the vanguards of the movement to win Smith a new trial.

Others working on Smith’s behalf joined Hunt at the church, including James Coleman of the Duke University Innocence Project. Coleman boldly proclaimed that the fight to win Smith his freedom would be successful, despite the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ recent denial of a new trial for Smith.

“I tell him (Smith) to keep the faith. Our job is to never give up,” he said.

The Duke University Innocence Project’s James Coleman has joined the fight.

The Duke University Innocence Project’s James Coleman has joined the fight.

Coleman spoke directly to the more than two dozen college students packed onto the church’s pews, imploring them to show more indignation and action.

“It is your duty to be outraged by the stuff that you see … you have to be outraged; you gotta show up,” he said.

Smith’s father, August Dark, offered a similar message.

“One must not wait for injustice to come knocking on their door before they join the fight,” he said.
Dark also read a letter his son penned specifically for the occasion.

“I am Darryl Hunt, and Darryl Hunt is me,” the letter states. “I’m walking in his shoes, and he has walked in mine.”

Smith expressed dismay at the state of the criminal justice system and hoped that he is not the only one alarmed.

“When politics and the almighty dollar supersede justice, it should be frightening to everyone,” he wrote.

Attendees were encouraged to learn more about Smith’s case by going to and to contact Attorney General Roy Cooper to advocate on Smith’s behalf. Speakers excoriated Cooper, whose office they say has rubber-stamped Smith’s conviction instead of examining the case’s obvious flaws. Copper, a Democrat, has gubernatorial aspirations. Smith supporters are vowing to use the case to impair his support, especially among blacks.



“Let’s tell him he has not won anybody’s votes yet, until he’s done the right thing by Kalvin Michael Smith,” said Dr. Stephen Boyd, one of four co-chairs of the Silk Plant Forest (the name of the now defunct business where Marker was assaulted) Committee.

Hunt works every day to help other men and women slighted by justice through the Innocence and Justice Clinic at Wake Forest University School of Law. It is an extension of the work he does through his own nonprofit, the Darryl Hunt Project for Freedom and Justice. He is also the university’s community advocate and as such exposes students to volunteering opportunities and service projects at agencies and in communities throughout the city.

Before last week’s event, Hunt spent time walking the streets near Lloyd Presbyterian, which is on Chestnut Street, tucked off Patterson Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

There is bittersweet significance to the area for Hunt. His mother was murdered there when he was boy; it is where the cops picked him up that day 30 years ago. It is also where the Patterson Avenue YMCA once stood. He met Larry Little there on the basketball court when he was a teenager. His friendship with Little, an iconic local social justice fighter, would ultimately spark the movement that would win him his freedom.

Many have suggested to Hunt, who received nearly $2 million in compensation from the city and the state for his wrongful conviction, that he leave Winston-Salem and the tragic memories it bears. But Hunt says there is work still to be done.

“This chapter can’t be closed until Kalvin Michael Smith comes home,” he said.

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