Detroit reaches $7.5M deal in wrongful conviction lawsuit

Posted at 8:09 PM, March 21, 2022 and last updated 4:24 PM, July 5, 2023

By ED WHITE Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — The city of Detroit has reached a $7.5 million settlement with a man who entered prison as a teenager and spent eight years there before a prosecutor agreed to drop four murder convictions.

Davontae Sanford was just 15 when he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the fatal shootings of four people in 2007.

But the case took a strange turn when a professional hit man, Vincent Smothers, stepped forward and said he was responsible for the killings, not Sanford.

The financial settlement with Sanford is on the Detroit City Council’s agenda Tuesday.

Although he pleaded guilty, Sanford later insisted he was innocent and took a plea deal only because he felt helpless and poorly represented by a lawyer. He was 14 at the time of the murders.

In 2016, the convictions were dropped at the request of Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy and Sanford was released from prison.

Worthy, however, did not cite Smothers as the reason. She said misconduct by Detroit police during Sanford’s interrogation had spoiled the case.

At the time, David Moran, director of the Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan’s law school, said the case revealed a “complete breakdown” in the criminal justice system. The clinic as well as the law school at Northwestern University helped free Sanford.

Smothers, meanwhile, has never been charged in the Runyon Street homicides. He was sentenced to 52 years in prison after pleading guilty in 2010 to eight other killings.

Smothers said he was regularly hired by drug dealers to kill others in the trade but would never take on a teenager as a sidekick.