Punished for a crime he did not commit

What happens when you are punished for a crime you never committed? When the best part of your life is spent behind bars, rueing your fate and the system which fails you when you need it the most.

The heart-moving short biopic, The Price of Providence directed by Merajur Rahman Baruah, is the story of Dwayne Provience who was sentenced to 32-62 years in prison and spent around decade in the jail for the murder of Rene Hunter, for a crime he never committed.

The documentary was screened recently at India International Centre. It highlights the grim realities of the inadequate justice system that prevails in the city of Detroit (Michigan,USA) and the wrong judgements which end up punishing the innocents who are not guilty.

The case dates back to the year 2001 when Rene Hunter was shot in his car near the busy intersection of northwest Detroit. Seven witnesses recorded their statements. Evidence pointed towards the drug bosses Mosleys, until a suspect named Larry Willey, a crack addict told the police about his presence at the crime scene and recorded seeing Dwayne Provience and his brother De-Al fire a shot from his bike. This statement didn’t match that of the seven witnesses, but Dwayne’s lawyer didn’t call any of them for defence, resulting in Dwayne’s conviction for a murder he didn’t commit.

“You can look at your child and tell whether he is lying or not. I was convinced Dwayne was innocent,” says Vonzella Battle, mother of the protagonist. His girlfriend, sister and family were also sure of his innocence and supported him all throughout.

After years of digging information by the Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School, new reports and evidences were brought to the surface including a videotape that proved Willey lying at Provience’s trial. The protagonist of the film was declared a free man and his name cleared after charges against him were dropped in 2010 after months of trial.

“I had never planned this project. While I was working on a documentary on the Indian immigrants based in US, an interviewee narrated me Dwayne’s story,” recalls Baruah. “I was disheartened and knew similarities existed in India and a lot of countries where innocents are undergoing jail sentences for the crime they never committed. This struck a chord and made me start working on this documentary,” he said.

During the discussion which followed the screening, Baruah pointed out the need to showcase the documentary at various law universities and departments to draw their attention to various cases like Provience’s and the incompetence and loopholes that can be found in the justice system of various countries.

Also, there is a need to establish innocence clinic and centres that can look upon such cases and try to minimise the wrongdoings that the innocents suffer.

“I think this documentary should be showcased to a larger audience and especially to the law departments where cases like these can be studied and researched in detail. We cannot keep our eyes closed to such wrongdoings” says Vichitra Sharma, an alumnus of Columbia University and now a member of the International Buddhist Association, who came to watch the documentary.

But the disheartening fact is that Provience has been wronged twice and his fight is still not over. As he seeks for the compensation of all the years he lost in jail (some countries automatically pay compensation but Detroit doesn’t have this policy)
the state had to declare itself bankrupt due to the economic conditions.

While Provience lost a time that will never come back, as also important family members, the least he deserved from the state was an apology first, followed by compensation. Where Provience rebuilds his life there are many like him behind bars who await to clear their name and get justice.

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