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Wake Forest law alumnus and former top FBI official to release 16-month independent review of Silk Plant Forest case on May 29

Former FBI Assistant Director Christopher Swecker (’81) has completed a 16-month independent review of the Silk Plant Forest case, which he will release at a news conference at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, May 29, at the Wake Forest University School of Law.

Mark Rabil, director of the law school’s Innocence and Justice Clinic, said that students in his clinic study this case each semester. “I also attempted to mediate a resolution of the case with the prior Forsyth County D.A. Tom Keith,” he explained.

 Wake Forest Law Professor Miles Foy also served on the Citizens Silk Plant committee.

In a separate event, the Winston-Salem citizens who asked Swecker to conduct the independent review will hold a news conference at 4 p.m. the same afternoon outside Winston-Salem City Hall, 101 N. Main Street, to react and discuss next steps.  Duke University Law Professor James Coleman,  who serves as faculty adviser to the Duke University Law School Innocence Project, will speak and take questions from the media. Duke’s Innocence Project has been active in the case since 2003.

Swecker does not represent or advocate for any person, office, or group concerning the Silk Plant Forest case.  In 2010, after the senior leadership of the Winston-Salem Police Department dismissed the key findings of the Silk Plant Forest Citizens’ Review Committee (which was empanelled by the Winston-Salem City Council), a broad and diverse cross-section of Winston-Salem citizens reached out to Swecker to independently review the case and if he chose, to announce that opinion publicly. 

Swecker was not asked to render an opinion on whether Kalvin Michael Smith was in fact innocent or guilty.  Swecker’s reviewed the investigation and came to his independent conclusions, which he will discuss at his news conference on Tuesday. 

About the Silk Plant Forest case

The Silk Plant Forest case stems from the Dec. 9, 1995, beating of Jill Marker, a 33-year-old pregnant Winston-Salem woman who was working alone at the Silk Plant Forest near Hanes Mall.  Today, Jill is blind, brain damaged, physically disabled, and requires 24-hour care.  Kalvin Michael Smith, a 25-year-old Winston-Salem man, was arrested and convicted for the crime.  No physical evidence has ever linked Smith to the scene or to the crime, and no witnesses to the attack have ever been known.

The case is currently the subject of a habeas corpus petition in Federal Court in Greensboro.  In 2007, the Winston-Salem City Council empanelled the Silk Plant Forest Citizens’ Review Committee which, after an 18-month review concluded that it did “not have confidence” in the original investigation and voted 7 to 2 that they found “no credible evidence” that Kalvin Michael Smith was at the scene on the date of the crime. Eighteen months later, the senior leadership of the Winston-Salem Police Department dismissed the Citizens’ Review Committee Report.

Swecker is a 24-year FBI veteran and former Assistant Director in charge of the bureau’s Criminal Investigation Division.  At the time of his retirement in July 2006, Swecker was the Acting Executive Director in charge of nine FBI divisions. He oversaw the investigations that led to the capture of top-ten fugitive Eric Robert Rudolph and the dismantling of the Charlotte, N.C., Hezbollah terror cell.  N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper engaged Swecker to conduct a review of the SBI Crime Lab which revealed deficiencies affecting up to 200 cases, a review which led to reforms of the SBI Crime Lab. He graduated from Wake Forest law school in 1981.