Brian Serr

One Day Freedom – Brian Serr

“One Day Freedom” – this is the simple phrase that UPZambia employs to convey a sense of hope to their teenaged clients. Inevitable delays in the Zambian justice system – due in large part to insufficient funding of an insufficient number of courts staffed by an insufficient number of legally trained judges – make it difficult to predict with any degree of precision when detained children will once again enjoy freedom. But “one day” it will happen. You will get your life back “one day.” One Day Freedom.

Evans Mfula is a 16-year-old boy who was one of UPZambia’s clients. While detained in an adult prison for nearly a year “on remand” (awaiting trial), for a crime he did not commit, Evans held on to this hope: “One Day Freedom.” We know this from the paper plate that Evans painted one Saturday when visited by UPZambia volunteers who brought art supplies along to the prison for the kids. Evans’ paper plate (below) may not look like something a 16-year-old would paint. But if you imagine children whose academic development and emotional maturity are delayed by grinding poverty and inadequate educational opportunities, it can explain how a 16-year-old’s art project looks more like what might be expected, in America, from a first grader. And yet, the message painted on Evans’ paper plate reveals a mature understanding of his situation: “One Day Freedom … Come Better Life … After Suf(f)er”

Evans and his friend, the appropriately named Innocent, were arrested for murder, based on nothing that could reasonably be viewed as “evidence.” They became suspects only because they were found in the presence of the two primary suspects the day after the murder. Those two suspects quickly confessed to the murder, they both gave a statement that only the two of them were involved, which corroborated Evans’ and Innocents’ story that they knew nothing about the killing, didn’t know their friends had killed anyone, and certainly didn’t participate.

As a professor of criminal law, I have read thousands of criminal cases. Yet, as I read Evans’ case file last week at the UPZambia office, just after viewing his paper plate on the wall, there was one thing after another that put me in a sort of legal culture shock. The story begins with a woman worrying out loud that she didn’t have money for baby formula for her young child. Two friends of hers decide later that they could get some money for baby formula from a cab driver. The cab driver resisted, things escalated, and one held the driver while the other pulled a knife and stabbed him. As the two had never done anything like this before, they suffered immense guilt. The following day they arranged a meeting in Lusaka with a witch doctor so that they could be “cleansed” of their crime. So that the witch doctor could acquire the correct charms for the cleansing, the two provided some details of their crime. The witch doctor reported the conversation to the police and the police were waiting to arrest when they showed up at the witch doctor’s home. Before leaving their village for Lusaka, and without telling Evans and Innocent about why they were driving to Lusaka, they asked Evans and innocent if they wanted to ride along.

As strange as the entire case seems, for me it was just as strange that police would arrest someone merely for being with the suspects a day after the crime. Such “guilt” by mere association does not come close to the “probable cause” that police officers need to legally arrest someone in America, or, for that matter, under the law in Zambia. Moreover, the police investigation quickly yielded confessions by the actual perpetrators, who implicated each other and had no reason not to implicate Evans and Innocent had they been involved in the crime in any way. Meanwhile both Evans and Innocent maintained their innocence, and neither said anything even remotely close to incriminating in their respective statements to the police. Despite the utter lack of evidence, they were nevertheless formally charged with murder and detained pending trial due to the severity of the charge. Due to the lack of juvenile detention facilities, they were detained in an adult prison, in conditions where they barely had room to roll over at night.

One Day Freedom – that day came just a few weeks ago, as a direct result of UPZambia’s legal assistance. That happy ending has come with some challenges. After a year in substandard conditions, Evans and Innocent have had some difficulties adjusting to their freedom. They are not eating well, and they show some other signs of trauma. With a new sibling, Evans even came home to a different family than the one he remembered. Despite those challenges, he has largely realized the hopes he painted on his paper plate many months ago in prison: “One Day Freedom… Come Better Life … After Suffer.”

Student Perspective

Innocent and Evans – Ashley Richardson

From left to right: Mpaso (UP Zambia intern), Ashley Richardson (post author), Evans (juvenile released), Robyn Leatherwood, Mainza (UP Zambia intern). Bottom row: Innocent (juvenile released).

During my first week working for UP Zambia, I was handed a case file that entailed the account of two young men, Innocent and Evans, who had been falsely imprisoned for a crime they did not commit. At the time I was handed the case, Innocent and Evans had been sitting in prison for roughly two years and five months. Upon reading their case file, I was overwhelmed with emotions of confusion, frustration, and despair. I could not imagine the horrors these two juveniles and their families have been through for the past two years as they have fought to prove that these juveniles were innocent. After further reading into their case, I was once again horrified to find that the attorney assigned to their case refused to represent Innocent and Evans. The attorney’s justification was that his clients would not heed his advice, meaning Innocent and Evans would not plead guilty for a crime they did not commit. At the time I was handed their case, these juveniles were failed by the justice system in countless ways.

Additionally, these innocent juveniles were robbed of their childhood and placed in a prison for the worst of juvenile offenders. The prison they were placed in houses over 1,300 convicts, most of which are adult males. Juveniles who have been accused of aggravated robbery or murder are also housed in the same location as they are awaiting their trial and judgment. Of the 57 juveniles who are housed at this prison, Innocent and Evans were two. The entire size of the prison is comparable to the size of a football field. To make matters worse, the juveniles sent to this prison are not separated from the adult convicts. Juveniles who are not yet convicted of a crime are forced to live in close quarters with adult convicts who have been convicted of crimes such as defilement, murder, rape and aggravated robbery. As a result of this cohabitation, the juveniles face several different forms of abuse and mistreatment each day that they are imprisoned. Knowing the severity of abuse that takes place at the prison both juveniles were located at, I was overwhelmed to find out that this is where Evans and Innocent have spent the last two years of their lives.

After reading the case file, my supervisor and I made arrangements to visit and interview Evans. Upon arrival at the prison, we waited in the visitors bay for Evans to be brought to where we were. When Evans arrived, his face and body were covered in open wounds from a combination of scabies, fleas, and lice which infested the prison. However, Evans still smiled as we told him that we were there to help him with his case, and asked him questions about his arrest. While speaking with Evans, it was clear that he and Innocent had nothing to do with the crime they were being accused of and that they were truly innocent juveniles who fell victim to an overburdened justice system. After saying our goodbyes, my supervisor and I headed to the high court to check on the progress of the case and inquire about when the judgment hearing would be set. After spending hours asking several people about the case, we were informed that the court could not find Innocent and Evans case file. Because courts are routinely overburdened, my supervisor and I decided the best approach would be to spend the next few weeks working hand-in-hand with high court clerks to locate the file. Considering that Innocent and Evans have been before a judge several times and that the trial came to conclusion in 2016, my supervisor, a few court clerks and I were able to track the case back to the courtroom it would have been in during the trial in 2016. Thanks to the combined efforts of UP Zambia and an array of clerks, we were able to locate the file.

By the grace of God, the judgment hearing was set for the week before my group and I left Zambia. While attending the judgment hearing, my supervisor and I sat amongst the families of Innocent and Evans. After years of being failed by the justice system, it was no surprise that everyone in the courtroom was nervous about what the holding of the case would be. While the judge read through the facts of the case, read the testimonies given by witnesses during the trial, and began citing several cases that he would use to make his decision, I was frantically writing down every opinion and case cited to start forming a defense for appeal. As the hearing came to a closing, the judge finally uttered the words “I cannot conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Innocent and Evans are guilty of the crime they are accused of “, and then acquitted both young men. At the time that the judge stated that both young men would be acquitted, there was a sign of relief and several whispers of “thank you God” amongst the families of Innocent and Evans. Immediately after the young men were taken out of the courtroom and back to the holding cells to await release, we ran down to the holding cells to hug and celebrate with Innocent and Evans. As we gave each juvenile a hug, they thanked us profusely for our help and for providing hope for a better life. This was surely a moment in time that will forever be burned into my heart and mind as a time that justice prevailed.

After departing from Innocent and Evans, we were met by their families in the parking lot. Similarly, they hugged and thanked us for our help while stating how excited they are for their sons to finally come home. Overwhelmed with emotions, I was full of joy for these two young men whom I’ve learned lessons of hope, patience, and persistence from. As we drove away from the courthouse, I began to realize that it takes the joint efforts of an entire justice system to achieve justice and protect the innocent. Due to the joint efforts of UP Zambia, court clerks and the ruling of a fair and honest judge, two young men regained their freedom.

These two loving and compassionate young men served two years for a crime they did not commit. The justice system failed them time and time again, but I find hope in knowing that a plethora of individuals in the justice system are working hard to ensure that justice is served in Lusaka, Zambia. The case file of Innocent of Evans was temporarily misplaced, but due to the joint efforts of advocates, clerks, and a fair judge, their case was heard and not forgotten.

On June 15, 2018 justice was finally served, and Innocent and Evans are now free.