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.