It’s been more than 20 years since Kalvin Michael Smith, now 44, was arrested for assaulting a sales associate named Jill Marker in Winston-Salem, North Carolina with intent to kill. But if MTV investigators Eva Nagao and Ryan Ferguson have any say in the matter, he won’t have to spend another minute behind bars for what they see as wrongful conviction.
On tonight’s Unlocking The Truth season finale, Nagao and Ferguson, who have been looking into Smith’s case over the course of eight episodes, aimed to finally decide whether to legally pursue Smith’s exoneration for the 1995 crime that left Marker, who was pregnant at the time, essentially brain dead. And by episode’s end, they had little doubt Smith had been innocent all along.
First, the duo spoke with Chuck Byrom, a former Winston-Salem sergeant and internal affairs investigator, who looked into how officers handled Smith’s investigation. Byrom said he was first assigned to the case because D.R. Williams, the investigation’s detective, had been suspected multiple times of coercing confessions out of suspects and witnesses where admissions didn’t actually exist. Byrom said he looked painstakingly into the investigation’s interviews and how authorities responded to the crime scene. It was a trying task, he said — he was already seen as a potential rat and didn’t want to perpetuate the notion that he was a Smith-sympathizer. His only job, he insisted, was to get to the bottom of things and uncover the truth.
Still, he was steadfast in his mission and ultimately corroborated the idea that Williams essentially manipulated interviewees into saying what he wanted to hear. Byrom likened the process to a “movie director guiding an actor” and said he would often go over dialogue seven or eight times with people until the story he wanted to hear was delivered accordingly. This was especially pertinent when it came to Eugene Littlejohn, who insisted during a previous meeting with Ferguson that he was basically bullied into implicating Smith in Marker’s assault lest Littlejohn, too, face penalties.
Byrom concluded that, by all accounts, Kenneth Lamoreux was a more likely suspect. Lamoreux had previously known Marker and had a history of violence against women. Ferguson and Nagao recalled that Marker even called her friend and co-worker Jeana Schopher just minutes before the assault with concerns that Lamoreux, who’d just entered Marker’s place of employment, seemed like he posed a risk. Police ignored all this though once Smith became an easy target, Byrom lamented.
“The system is set up to be adversarial,” he said. “It’s about wins and losses, and that’s sad.”
Committed to uncovering the truth, Nagao and Ferguson finally made contact with Williams, and though Williams wouldn’t speak on camera, he recounted his memory of the case for about an hour with the duo. Nagao was troubled by Williams’ instinct to incessantly point out he didn’t document anything and was disgusted that he claimed to have run a “by-the-book” investigation, maintaining that Smith confessed to the crime. Smith, on the other hand, denies ever having accepted fault.
As far as Nagao was concerned, Williams did little to convince her the case wasn’t designed to vilify Smith.
“I feel comfortable saying conclusively that Kalvin Michael Smith is innocent,” she noted after going over the case’s facts with Ferguson.
And when Ferguson finally talked to Smith face-to-face, he echoed those sentiments.
“When you’re right, you’re wrong, and when you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” Smith summated his experience in the system.
Still, Smith said he held onto hope he might one day make it in front of an honest judge, or be beside honest police or among honest prosecutors who were conditioned to do the right thing.
After meeting with Smith’s attorney Jim Coleman, the group pledged to file a second motion for appropriate relief on Smith’s behalf, which would include Schopher’s new testimony and a review of committee reports.
“Whether he was innocent or not, he was entitled to a fair trial,” Coleman said. And if the Unlocking The Truth gumshoes had anything to say about it, it’s only a matter of time before Smith gets one.
What do you think — are Ferguson and Nagao right, and is Smith headed toward freedom? Or do you think they’re overlooking damning details, and is it possible Smith really did brutalize Marker? Share your thoughts on the case in the comments.