Where's Kafka?

Mar 10, 2010 at 12:00 am

The case of Dwayne Provience keeps getting more and more bizarre.

Convicted in 2001 of gunning down an alleged drug dealer named Rene Hunter at an intersection on Detroit's northwest side, Provience was sentenced to serve as much as 62 years in prison for a crime he says he never committed.

That claim gained credence last year when attorneys and students working with the Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School began looking into his case and found that, a year after Provience was put away, the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office argued in a second but apparently related murder case that two other men had actually killed Hunter. They also found exculpatory information in police files that either wasn't turned over to Provience's original attorneys or wasn't pursued by them.

Those revelations were used to convince Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Kenney to toss out Provience's conviction last year and order his release from prison. Instead of just admitting they made a mistake by putting the wrong man behind bars, however, prosecutors continue to press for a new trial.

The problem now is that no one can find the files related to that second homicide. Also unaccounted for are files on a third murder Provience's attorneys argue could be related.

About one month ago Judge Kenney scheduled the March 5 hearing, saying he wanted to either have the files produced or hear from Detroit police about where they might be and who would be in charge of finding them. With an April 5 trial date approaching, both sides need the files to prepare.

At last week's hearing, Lt. Dwayne Blackmon, who heads the Detroit Police Department's homicide unit, said he searched in vain for the two missing files. "At this point, I have contacted our off-site company that holds our files and asked them to pull all the files related to [that year]," Blackmon said. They will be reviewed to see if the missing ones are among them.

Part of this problem, it seems, is that until about a year ago, there wasn't a formal sign-out system for Detroit police files, according to testimony. (A little upsetting, isn't it?) Now files are barcoded and scanned when investigators remove them from a central filing location.

Detroit Officer William Ashford also testified last week. Ashford worked in northwest Detroit — then the 8th Precinct — at the time of the Hunter murder, where he maintained dozens of contacts in the neighborhood.

About five or six years ago, he was assigned to a narcotics task force and saw the two missing files as a task force was investigating possible links between those killings and drug-dealing rap artists.

Ashford had some notes, he said, about the two killings, but he turned those over to another Detroit officer who was working with a Drug Enforcement Agency task force.

That led to courtroom speculation last week that the feds might have the missing material. "If the files are in the possession of federal law enforcement, they're going to be more difficult to get," Kenny said.

What? The feds don't use copy machines and just took entire files from Detroit police?

The bigger issue, it seems, is what happens if the feds don't have the files.

Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Bob Stevens maintains that since the files can't be found, the trial should be delayed. Kenny refused.

"Some of this information could have been found a little earlier," Kenny told him. "And I do have to give some consideration to Mr. Provience, who is entitled to get his day in court."

Kenny scheduled a March 15 hearing to be briefed about the progress in finding the missing files.

And as the April 5 trial date draws closer, some of the potential testimony is getting previewed. For example, Ashford said last week that during his investigation into the Hunter killing — though he wasn't the lead investigator — he had not heard that Provience was involved.

"Dwayne Provience, in my work in the 8th precinct, was never a part of that group," Ashford said. "He was never in the picture."

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]