Police Chief Scott Cunningham provided an update on the Winston-Salem Police Department’s internal review of the Silk Plant Forest case. The review has determined that some evidence seized in 1995 as part of the investigation into the beating of Jill Marker at the Silk Plant Forest store was not sent out for testing. The evidence, which was not admitted at trial, will be tested to determine if it contains any identifiable forensic information.
Cunningham also announced three procedural changes the department is implementing as a result of the review. In a related development, Superior Court Judge Richard Stone has authorized the release of the full report by the Silk Plant Forest Citizens Review Committee, including exhibits that contain information about police actions during the criminal investigation. Stone stayed his order for 10 days while the current and former police officers subject to the order decide whether to appeal.
The evidence that will be tested consists of Jill Marker’s clothes, a piece of cardboard with blood and hair on it and cigarette butts found at the scene. This is not newly discovered evidence, Cunningham said. The items are listed on inventory sheets of physical evidence seized in 1995.
"During our internal police review, we went through the list of evidence item by item, to determine if each was conclusive one way or another, and discovered that these items had never been sent out for testing," Cunningham said. "All indications are that these evidence sheets were provided to both the prosecution and (Kalvin) Smith’s defense attorney (before Smith’s trial) but apparently no one ever asked that it be tested."
The Police Department double checked with the SBI lab, and it also had no record of ever testing these items. "The evidence will be submitted for testing at leading labs that offer the best chance to glean any potential evidentiary information using the most current techniques," Cunningham said.
Kalvin Smith was convicted in December 1997 of the beating of Jill Marker in December 1995 that left her with grave and permanent injuries. Smith maintains his innocence.
In September, Cunningham announced he would lead an internal police review of the Jill Marker-Kalvin Smith case and of the findings and recommendations in the Citizen Review Committee’s report.
Among other things, the internal police review is evaluating the actions of the Police Department and its personnel during the investigation, and considering the Citizen Review Committee’s recommendations regarding enhancements to the Winston-Salem Police Department procedures, policies and practices.
The internal police review is still in progress, Cunningham said. However, he recently ordered these changes in procedures based on the review thus far:
• Detectives will document the beginning and ending times of all taped interviews in their supplement report.
• Statements gathered from witnesses and suspects will be recorded from the onset of the interview and the recorder not turned off until the conclusion of the interview.
• The police general order section concerning interview procedures on receipt, verification and preservation of statements in criminal investigations has been updated to ensure that officers follow the relevant court guidelines.
In Forsyth County Superior Court on Tuesday, Stone authorized the release of full report from Silk Plant Forest Citizens Review Committee following the expiration of the 10-day stay, provided there is no appeal of his order. The full report includes information about the original criminal investigation and confidential information about police personnel that cannot be released under state law without the employee’s permission or a court order. The city requested its release in October on the grounds it is "necessary and essential to maintaining public confidence in the administration of city services."