Davontae Sanford was wrongly accused of a quadruple murder in Detroit at the age of 14. He was sentenced to 37 to 90 years in prison. He served close to nine years. But on June 8, 2016, he walked out of prison a free man at age 23 after Wayne Circuit Judge Brian Sullivan dismissed the case at the request of prosecutors.
At age 14, Davontae Sanford, who is mentally challenged and blind in one eye, was coerced to plead guilty to murdering four people, a crime that he didn’t commit. A professional hit man by the name of Vincent Smothers admitted to the slayings only two weeks after Sanford was sentenced. However, Sanford remained behind bars despite the overwhelming evidence that he was innocent. This evidence included conflicting information regarding Davontae’s “accomplices,”who all had alibis; an out of business “murder plot location” (a Coney Island restaurant) where the scheme was allegedly planned out, but had been closed down for years; as well as there being no physical evidence of a gun that was found. When Smothers, a hit man, admitted to the murders, he led police right to the gun that was used in the killings. This gun turned out to be a perfect ballistics match.
Furthermore, hit man Smothers insisted that Sanford played no role in the killings. Despite all of the evidence that should’ve exonerated Sanford, including the hit man’s confession, Sanford still served close to nine years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
After a re-investigation of the case by the Michigan State Police (MSP), Judge Brian Sullivan vacated the conviction. The case was a failure of justice on all accounts, from the Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, to the then Detroit Police Deputy Chief James Tolbert.
Kym Worthy insisted her office did its job by standing by the evidence that was brought by police that included Sanford’s confession and guilty plea when they charged Sanford with the crimes. Part of her decision was that a tracking dog led police to Sanford’s house at 19770 Beland. The problem with that “fact” is that Davontae didn’t live at the address Worthy indicated, he lived down the street at 19700 Beland.
However, Worthy stood by her decision to charge Sanford despite this discrepancy and the fact that the tracking dog’s trail went cold, which suggested that whomever was being tracked may have left the scene in a car. Worthy was quoted as saying, “He was convicted by his own words in a guilty plea. This wasn’t a young man who made a decision to plead guilty in a vacuum.”
When it comes to former Detroit Police Deputy Chief James Tolbert, it’s alleged that he committed perjury when he testified under oath that Sanford, who was 14 at the time, drew a diagram of the crime scene. On July 13, 2010, Deputy Chief Tolbert testified that Mr. Sanford drew the sketch from a blank piece of paper and then [Sanford] signed the sketch. However, during MSP’s re-investigation, they conducted a follow-up interview with Deputy Chief Tolbert where the deputy responded to questions that undermined his prior testimony. As a result, a warrant request was issued for Deputy Chief Tolbert, and Davontae was ultimately released and exonerated.
Davontae’s homecoming celebration was very emotional. His family was elated and overjoyed at the sight of their loved one. Even though Davontae declined to give a statement on the day he was released, he had this to say during a press conference held on Thursday, June 9th:
“First off, I would like to thank everybody around the country, around the world for supporting me and my family throughout this difficult [and] hard struggle. It’s finally over. Now, I would like to take the time to reunite with my family and try to get my life back on track. I’m not about to play the blame game with nobody. It’s over. I’m out. That’s all I really wanted was my freedom. From this day forward, I’m going to try to move forward and put all this behind me, and go from there. Live life. Do some things I’ve never been able to do before, like learn how to drive and go get my drivers license and things like that. That’s about it. Thank everybody for being here to support me,” Sanford said.