Nine years ago, a pajama-clad 14-year-old confessed to the murders of four people at a Detroit drug house. Now, a judge has opted to overturn the bogus conviction, years after an experienced hit man stepped forward to claim responsibility for the gruesome killings.
Devontae Sanford, now 23, has been incarcerated since 2007 for a crime he had absolutely nothing to do with. According to The Guardian, attorneys and advocates have been claiming his innocence ever since, pointing out the hit man’s subsequent confession, critical mistakes made by Sanford’s original lawyer, and questionable evidence presented in the teen’s case.
The fight for Sanford’s innocence paid off Tuesday when Judge Brian Sullivan chose to vacate the Detroit man’s conviction. According to Sullivan’s order, Sanford is to be released on bond, after which all charges will be dropped. Per CBS News, Sanford is awaiting his release from a prison located on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
The judge’s decision comes at the request of the Wayne County prosecutor’s office and Sanford’s attorneys, the news site reports.
“This is a day we have long waited for, and knew would ultimately come, but we are just thrilled that justice is finally here for Davontae,” said Megan Crane, co-director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth.”
Crane, along with other attorneys and law students, helped argue for Sanford’s release, according to the Detroit Free Press. Crane said Sanford, just 14 at the time of the shootings, was arrested by authorities after standing outside his home near the crime scene. Police were canvassing the area for witnesses and suspected the young teen had details concerning the shooting.
According to Crane, Sanford was detained and interrogated into the wee hours of the morning until police could force a confession out of him. Defense lawyers suspect the developmentally disabled teen was coerced into giving a fake admission of guilt. Valerie Newman, an assistant defender with the State Appellate Defender Office, said Sanford’s claims had “all the hallmarks of a false confession.”
Sanford ultimately pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 37-90 years behind bars, the Detroit Free Press reports.
Not long after Sanford’s conviction, hit man Vincent Smothers came forward to claim responsibility for the September 2007 murders. According to the Detroit News, Smothers provided details of the heinous crime, including where one of the murder weapons was stashed.
The news site reports that neither the hit man nor his accomplice were ever charged for the drug house slayings, although Smothers is serving 50-100 years in prison after confessing to eight other murders-for-hire.
Even after Smothers came forward, prosecutors handling Sanford’s case tried to dissuade him from testifying by offering him a plea bargain, according to The Guardian.
The self-professed hit man turned down the offer, saying, “It seemed ludicrous to me that the state would actually go this far to make sure Davontae Sanford remained in prison for crimes I committed and confessed to.”
“I cannot emphasize strongly enough that Davontae Sanford was not involved in the Sept. 17 murders on Runyon Street in any way,” Smothers also wrote in an affidavit filed in the Wayne Circuit Court last year.
Per the Detroit News, Sanford is set to be released from prison on Wednesday.
“Finally I am able to share the good news that has been burning a hole through my soul not to tell!!!!,” Sanford’s sister, Deshonda Davis, wrote on her Facebook page. “My brother is finally coming home, thank you Jesus. I doubt if I get any sleep tonight, tomorrow will absolutely be the best day of my life.”