Wayne County Judge Brian Sullivan today ordered the immediate release of Davontae Sanford, who has been wrongly imprisoned since age 14 for a quadruple homicide that occurred on Detroit’s Runyon Street. Since 2008, professional hitman Vincent Smothers has repeatedly insisted that he alone was responsible for the murders.  Now 23 years old, Davontae will be released from custody imminently after serving nearly nine years of a 37- to 90-year sentence.


Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy also has agreed to dismiss all charges and not to re-try Sanford for these crimes. Worthy based her decision on a lengthy report by the Michigan State Police detailing that agency’s yearlong reinvestigation of the Runyon Street quadruple homicide, completed on May 20, 2016. Specifically, that report alleges that former Detroit Police Deputy Chief James Tolbert committed perjury when he falsely testified that Davontae Sanford drew a diagram of the crime scene in its entirety, including the location of the victims’ bodies, during his interrogation by police.

The Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth and the Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School filed the motion for relief from judgment that Judge Sullivan granted today.


Pro bono attorneys from Dykema Gossett PLLC handled the final negotiations with the prosecutor’s office leading to today’s stipulated order. The Northwestern team was headed by Megan Crane and supported by Steven Drizin and Laura Nirider, and the Michigan team was headed by Dave Moran. Valerie Newman from the State Appellate Defender Office, which formerly represented Sanford on appeal, also served on the legal team.


In April 2015, the Michigan Innocence Clinic and Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth filed an extensive Motion for Relief from Judgment highlighting the detailed, corroborated confession by Smothers to the Runyon Street murders and highlighting the obvious unreliability of Davontae Sanford’s confessions, given their complete lack of corroboration and many inaccuracies. As a result, the Michigan State Police reinvestigated the murders. On May 20, 2016, the Michigan State Police provided the report to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office.


“After 3,185 days of prison time for a crime he did not commit, Davontae finally got justice today,” said Megan Crane, co-director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth at Northwestern. “Davontae and his family, and many lawyers, have fought long and hard to show the truth in this case. We could not be happier that this day is finally here.


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