Detroit Council OK’s $7.5 Million Settlement for Wrongfully Imprisoned Teen

By Ava Schwartzapfel

DETROIT, MI — The Detroit City Council unanimously approved a $7.5 million settlement Tuesday for a man who entered prison as a teenager and remained there for eight years for murders he didn’t commit—a professional hit man later took responsibility.

The prosecutor has agreed to drop four murder convictions from the record of Davontae Sanford, who was only 15 when he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder of four people that took place two blocks from his home.

The shooting occurred at a drug house on Runyon, a house two blocks from Sandford’s east side Detroit home in 2007.

Just two weeks after Sanford went to prison, Vincent Smothers, professional hitman, confessed to 12 murders, including the homicides on Runyon. Smothers was convicted of eight murders, excluding the Runyon killings.

Sanford later said he was innocent and only took the plea deal because he felt “helpless and poorly represented by a lawyer,” the Detroit News shared.

Since then, advocates for Sanford’s innocence have publicized that his convictions were a miscarriage of justice and have fought to get his case overturned.

The convictions were dropped in June of 2016, thanks to Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, and Sanford was able to leave the prison.

Worthy at the time, although he did not state Smothers’ guilt as the reason for Sanford’s innocence, simply said it was due to misconduct during Sanford’s interrogation.

Sanford’s release was assisted by the Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan’s Law School as well as the law school at Northwestern University.

David Moran of the Michigan Clinic stated that this case revealed as “complete breakdown” in the criminal justice system.

Meanwhile, Smothers has yet to be charged for the Runyon Street homicides since he was sentenced to 52 years in prison for eight other killings.

Smothers shared that he was regularly hired by drug dealers to kill others but would never take on a teenager as a sidekick.

Minister Eric Blount of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Detroit pleaded with the council to approve the settlement saying, “Please vote yes. This is a small effort to right the wrong… due to systemic corruption.”

Blount had previously advocated against another matter before the council that would allow for more funds for police surveillance systems throughout the city.

The Detroit City Council has yet to release a comment on this settlement.

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