|Larry Little, Earline Parmon, Augustus Dark and Darryl Hunt (l-r)|
The matter of the Winston-Salem City Council’s closed-session decision to August to not file a “friend of the court” brief requesting that a federal judge grant Kalvin Michael Smith a new trial was raised during a community forum at the Carter G. Woodson School on Saturday that was part of the National Alumni Association of the Black Panther Party.
Smith was convicted in the 1990s of brutally beating Jill Marker, an employee of the Silk Plant Forest store. Many people consider Smith’s case to be a wrongful conviction because the primary witness was unreliable and inconsistent, the brain-damaged victim was inappropriately interviewed and significant leads were not pursued. Former FBI Assistant Director Christopher Swecker said the original investigation “was seriously flawed and woefully incomplete” and a citizens review committee empaneled by the city council found “no credible evidence that Kalvin Michael Smith was at the scene” of the crime on the night of the attack.
The community forum was moderated by Larry Little, a former city councilman and former leader of the Winston-Salem Black Panther Party, and Darryl Hunt, who was wrongfully convicted of the murder of newspaper copy editor Deborah Sykes and later exonerated after spending more than 19 years in prison.
NC Rep. Earline Parmon asked the panelists to explain why “the city decided not to recognize the legal injustice that we’re trying to clean up?”
Little noted that the council initially appeared to be headed in the direction of officially declaring for the judge’s benefit that the investigation was flawed and the verdict questionable, but then “all of a sudden they backed off.”
During a meeting of the public safety committee of the council, five members – a majority – indicated they supported some type of official action to right the injustice, including East Ward Councilman Derwin Montgomery, Southeast Ward Councilman James Taylor, Mayor Pro Tem Vivian Burke, North Ward Councilwoman Denise D. Adams and South Ward Councilwoman Molly Leight.
Montgomery and Taylor stood firm, but when council went into close session to make a decision the majority eroded, with Adams, Burke and Leight peeling off.
Little singled out the two black members of council who switched sides in his comments, while sparing Leight.
“I have to tell you that Vivian Burke and DD Adams went south on us and refused to support the motion for appropriate relief,” Little said. “DD is walking away from these social justice issues, and has for a while. She won’t say it, but I’m telling you, DD – you don’t know what Vivian’s doing – but DD is running from her – she thinks her white constituents don’t want her on these type of issues.”
Little quickly added that “there are a number of white people you can see here who stand for justice,” likely referring to Kim Porter, Will Cox and their two daughters, who are active with Occupy Winston-Salem.
"She said in the meeting: 'Yes, we got to to do something. We got to do something. We got to do something,'" Little recalled. "And then it came to the vote, and she and Vivian backed off and did a 180-degree turn. And so you have to just look at it for what it is."
Adams won the North Ward seat in 2009 after Nelson Malloy, also an alum of the Winston-Salem Black Panther Party, announced his retirement.
Adams said after the council’s decision that the city has demonstrated its commitment by establishing the Silk Plant Forest Citizens Committee, a move that was taken before she was elected to council.