In 2007, Davontae Sanford, a 14-year-old who was blind in one eye and had a habit of telling tall tales, told Detroit police officers after hours of questioning that he had killed four people in a shooting a few blocks from his house.
The teenager, who had quickly recanted, was sentenced to up to 90 years in prison and remained behind bars even after a notorious Detroit hit man admitted to having committed the killings with a second man.
But on Tuesday, after eight years of court battles and a reinvestigation of the case, Brian Sullivan, a Wayne County Court judge, vacated Mr. Sanford’s convictions and ordered him released.
“Davontae’s family, friends and supporters knew from the outset that he was innocent and wrongfully convicted,” his family said in a statement Tuesday. “As the judge’s order confirms, Davontae had nothing to do with these murders. We are grateful to those who have fought for many years on Davontae’s behalf and thankful to soon have Davontae home with us.”
The story of how he spent nine years in prison — despite not matching descriptions of the killers — involved a series of grave mistakes and critical oversights on the part of Mr. Sanford’s initial lawyer, the trial judge, the Detroit police and Wayne County prosecutors, officials said Tuesday.
Kym Worthy, the current county prosecutor, declined to comment Tuesday, but her office said in a statement that the case against Mr. Sanford, who is now 23, had fallen apart after a recently concluded reinvestigation by the state police.
That inquiry determined that James Tolbert, a former Detroit deputy police chief, had contradicted his sworn testimony in which he had said that Mr. Sanford “drew the entire diagram of the crime scene, including the location of the victims’ bodies, while being questioned by the police,” according to the prosecutor’s office.
Ms. Worthy, who has agreed to file a motion to dismiss all charges and not to retry Mr. Sanford, has scheduled a news conference for Thursday morning.
In 2008, Mr. Sanford pleaded guilty to four counts of second-degree murder on the advice of his lawyer, Robert Slameka, who has been suspended from practicing law for misconduct at least once, according to state Attorney Discipline Board records.
Mr. Slameka, according to Mr. Sanford’s current lawyers, did not seek to suppress Mr. Sanford’s confession, even though Mr. Sanford recanted within a few hours. He said he had admitted to the killings under duress.
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SOURCE: NY Times, Timothy Williams