The The Silk Plant Forest Truth Committee filed a "friend of the court" brief (link) in federal court today, calling US District Court Judge Catherine C. Eagle's attention to a report by retired FBI Assistant Director Christopher Swecker's report calling for a new trial for Kalvin Michael Smith.
The "friend of the court" brief references a key conclusion of the Swecker report (link) that "due to the flawed nature of the original investigation only a new trial that considers the full record and evidence not available, misrepresented or omitted in the original trial will provide the full measure of justice the community of Winston-Salem and every accused defendant deserves."
The Silk Plant Forest Truth Committee has requested that the Winston-Salem City Council intervene in the case by filing a "friend of the court" brief with the federal courts requesting a new trial for Smith. The council discussed the request in closed session with City Attorney Angela Carmon on Monday, but adjourned without taking any action. Council plans to take up the matter in closed session again on Aug. 6.
Smith was convicted in 1997 of brutally beating Jill Marker, an employee of the Silk Plant Forest store. Based on a 2004 investigative series by the Winston-Salem Journal, a report by a citizens committee empaneled by the Winston-Salem City Council and Swecker's review, many believe that Smith's conviction was a miscarriage of justice. Critics point to critical evidence that was overlooked, key witness testimony that was coached and subsequently recanted, and an interview with the victim that was conducted under inappropriate circumstances.
Smith has a habeas corpus motion pending in federal court.
The decision today by the Silk Plant Forest Truth Committee to intervene in the case ensures that the judge is aware of Swecker's review and recommendations, but also potentially reduces the impact of a possible future motion by the city, which is believed to have the most ability to persuade the judge. But getting the Swecker report to Judge Eagles might resolve a dilemma about whether the city council should submit additional documentation to the court.
If the city council were to submit the report of Silk Plant Forest Citizens Review Committee — a body distinct from the truth committee — which said it "does not have confidence in the investigation, the information in question, or the result of the investigation," it would likely aid Smith's prospects for a new trial. But the council might also decide to forward a recent report by the Winston-Salem Police Department recommending that the case remain closed, which could muddy the water. A lot is riding on how the city intervenes, if at all, and what and how much information it chooses to share with the judge. But, if nothing else, the truth committee's action today ensures that Judge Eagles has an unequivocal recommendation based on a thorough review by a law enforcement veteran with impeccable credentials.
The amicus, or "friend of the court" brief reads,
The [Silk Plant Forest Truth Committee] represents that its limited participation will not prejudice any party nor delay the hearing on this matter. The submitted material does not directly support either party's position in the cast, but he SPFTC believes that it is highly relevant to the plaintiff's habeas petition, and so believes the court may be substantively informed thereby. Furthermore, the SPFTC's interest in the matter rests on its stated objectives of an open, accountable criminal justice system, and public interest therein.