A man sentenced at 14 years old to over three decades in prison is finally being released.
Davontae Sanford was arrested and sentenced to 37-90 years in prison after confessing to a quadruple homicide.
He is being released after nine years in prison because key facts of the case reveal his admission of guilt was imperfect and faulty. Sanford is half-blind and has a learning disability that forced him to take special education classes while he was in school.
On the night of Sept. 17, 2007, Sanford wandered into east Detroit at the same time four people were shot dead in a drug house on Runyon Street. Police approached Sanford near the crime scene and brought him into the police station where he was questioned without parents or an attorney. According to the defense, when Sanford requested an attorney, he was called a “dumbass” and was never read his Miranda rights.
At first, Sanford denied any culpability, but later gave contradicting stories about the crime. He named specific types of firearms that were purportedly used for the murders, but the bullet casings from the murder scene did not match the alleged guns.
Following both statements Sanford made, police considered what he told them as an official confession.
Sanford was charged with murder and immediately told his psychologist the police told him if he said anything he could go home. Sanford was subsequently assigned to attorney Robert Slameka, who was reprimanded by the state of Michigan for misconduct in his cases. Slameka, who had his law license suspended before, persuaded Davontae to plead guilty to the second-degree murder.
Two weeks after Sanford was imprisoned, professional hit man Vincent Smothers confessed to the killings and provided details that were deemed accurate. Smothers emphasized on multiple occasions that Sanford had nothing to do with the crime. “I have nothing to gain from testifying about my commission of the Runyon murders. I only want to tell the truth in order to prevent an innocent kid from serving time for crimes that I committed,” Smothers said.
In a signed affidavit, Smothers wrote, “I cannot emphasize strongly enough that Davontae Sanford was not involved in the Sept. 17 murders on Runyon street in any way.”
The prosecutors’ settlement to exonerate Sanford cites “major problems” found with state law enforcement officials’ work with Sanford. It does not mention Smothers.
Sanford’s family attorney, Valerie Newman, lamented the facts of the investigatory procedures, stating “The reality is there is a lot of injustice in the criminal justice system, and this case puts that on full display…about how a 14-year-old child can be coerced into giving a false confession. Confessions are coerced more often than people think.”
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