Nearly 20 years ago, on December 9, 1995, a pregnant white woman named Jill Marker was closing down the Silk Plant Forest Store in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was an assistant manager, and when she noticed a sinister-seeming man wandering the store, she called her friend and former co-worker in distress.
Fifteen minutes later, she had been beaten so severely, her brain was likened to a puddle.
On tonight’s Unlocking The Truth, Ryan Ferguson and Eva Nagao continued to investigate the idea that Kalvin Michael Smith -- a black man who was just 24 when Jill was horrifically beaten -- was falsely convicted. First, there was a man in Jill’s life who was much more likely to have brutalized her. Second, the case against Kalvin was rooted in evidence that experts have since come to identify as “contaminated.”
Smith was sentenced to 29 years in jail for assault with intent to kill and has been in jail for nearly 20 years. Jill now lives under 24-hour care in Ohio.
Despite intense media coverage immediately after the beating, no arrests were made, so investigators reached out to the public for tips. Unfortunately for Smith, statements came from two ex-girlfiends, Andra Wilson and Valerie Williams, and Smith’s friend, Eugene Littlejohn. The women said Smith had admitted to them that he’d beaten Jill, and Littlejohn went as far to say he was with Smith on the night of the assault. Littlejohn’s girlfriend, Pamela Moore, corroborated his story.
Even though Smith passed a polygraph immediately after his arrest, even though Moore eventually recanted and even though Smith said a potentially self-implicating statement he made was coerced by police, he remains in jail.
Smith’s family, a top wrongful conviction attorney, Smith’s own former defense attorney and a leading expert on coercive interrogations have all agreed that retired detective D.R. Williams did Smith in because he was a racist who felt pressure to convict a black man.
According to Duke University Law Clinic attorney Jim Coleman, Williams had a history of operating with racist motives. He garnered a reputation of being a “cut-corners” type of guy, Coleman said, and drawing things called “D.R. Confessions,” which were the result of his forceful nature during questioning.
William Speaks, Smith’s former defense attorney, reinforced the idea that police convicted Smith out of pressure they felt to put someone behind bars. He felt sure that statements delivered by Wilson, Williams and Littlejohn lacked credibility and that if he had been allotted additional resources, Smith would be a free man.
“If I had a million dollars like O.J. [Simpson], I’m certain he would have walked,” he said.
Josh Tepher, Nagao’s Exoneration Project co-worker who specializes in cases of coercive interrogations, said original statements delivered by Littlejohn -- around whom Smith’s case was largely built -- were the result of “contamination” tactics, or the conversational planting of crime scene facts that Williams introduced to Littlejohn during an examination rather than gathered from him. In other words, Williams put the who, what, where and when into questions for Littlejohn, and when Littlejohn felt his back against the wall, all he had to say was “yes.” Yes, he was at a store that sold artificial trees the night of Marker’s assault. Yes, he was with Kalvin.
All the while, police ignored a much likelier suspect named Kenneth Lamoureux, a man with whom Jill had history. Police actually investigated Lamoreux immediately after the assault, but he was never arrested.
According to Jeana Schopher, a friend with whom Jill had previously worked at a day care center, Lamoreux had a thing for Jill, but she was not interested. Schopher said Lamoreux made things extremely uncomfortable for the entire staff whenever he visited, and that they eventually filed a restraining order to keep him away.
Jill called Schopher just minutes before she was assaulted to say that Lamoreux was wandering the store and that he’d invited her to dinner, which Jill declined. Schopher called police the next day when she heard of Jill's beating, but she said police never asked for her phone records and that she never saw them again. She assumed her intel had helped them along in the case.
Stella Goode, Jill's former Silk Plant co-worker, had worked with Jill hours before she was beaten but left before the assault. Goode told Ferguson and Nagao she remembered a suspicious white man roaming the store who matched Lamoreux’s description, something fellow co-worker Cynthia Cloud had also noted in a nearly identical statement to police. Goode hadn’t heard about Jill's or Smith’s cases since.
Ellen Lamoreux, Kenneth’s ex-wife, said it seemed very clear early in the case that her ex-husband was responsible for Jill's beating and that he had a history of domestic assault. Ellen said Kenneth was especially angry when she was pregnant, and that the similarities between herself and Jill as victims were undeniable. Kenneth had broken Ellen’s nose and bones and left her with a hematoma. When he threatened to kill her, he was admitted to a psychiatric unit, but upon his release, she says things got even worse.
Ellen said that Kenneth was extremely angry upon his homecoming and began to beat her severely. She tried to escape but he crushed her hands in the door, Ellen claims, and when she finally got outside, he tried to impale her on a fence. Luckily, a neighbor helped to get her inside. A day later, Jill was attacked.
Ellen said she called Williams repeatedly after the investigation into Jill's assault began, but he said that -- once Kenneth left the state -- he had set his sights on Smith instead because he was a “known crack dealer” (he wasn’t), and he wanted Smith off the streets.
Tell us: Do you think that Smith was wrongfully convicted? Should Lamoreux have been more thoroughly investigated? Or is there still more to this case that we need to learn? Share your thoughts, and be sure to tune in to a brand-new Unlocking The Truth next Wednesday at 11/10c!