Attorney: Confession in quadruple homicide was coerced; conviction thrown out

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Davontae Sanford

A judge throws out the murder convictions against a Detroit man nine years after the crime.

Davontae Sanford was just 15 when he pleaded guilty to murdering four people but a hit man, Vincent Smothers, later confessed to the killings. Now Sanford's fight to overturn his plea is finally paying off.

Sanford is now 23 years old and he's about to be released. On Tuesday Judge Ryan Sullivan ordered him released immediately.

He will be transported back to an area of prison. He's been serving time in Marquette and he'll be transported back near here. His attorneys will go get him tomorrow and deliver him back to his family. He's been who has been waiting so long for this moment.

A professional hit man came forward shortly after Davontae went to prison, saying that he was the one who murdered four people on Runyan Street.

He maintained that consistently yet the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office fought  the concession and kept Davontae Sanford in prison.

But just recently a year-long review by the Michigan State Police and a prosecutor's office order to turned up some new information that revealed Davontae Sanford was wrongly imprisoned.

Remember, he had confessed to this crime but he was a mentally challenged 14-year-old boy and it was a coerced concession.

As a result of that and the investigation, Prosecutor Kym Worthy had a change of heart and said he should be released. Sanford is no longer a child, now 23.

Instead of going through all the motions, the judge said his conviction is vacated and his sentences as well and he should be released immediately.

His attorneys are absolutely ecstatic.

"Davontae's confession has all the hallmarks of a false confession and never challenged," said attorney Valerie Newman with the state appellate defender office. "I knew the truth would come out in this case. There was just too much there for this to not have happened. Confessions from young children are almost always unreliable and you would want a lot of independent corroboration before that kind of statement should be taken seriously or used to prosecute somebody."

So how did something like this happen?

One reason is that he had ineffective council. The defense attorney assigned to Sanford never even challenged that coerced confession, that so many attorneys would have obviously questioned and fought in court. His attorney did not do that. His attorney is no longer practicing, although he is fighting to get his license back.

The former attorney is not the only person to blame here.

Worthy said in a press release that former Deputy Chief James Tolbert gave conflicting information in his testimony - and so DPD is also to blame as well.

FOX 2 did talk briefly to Detroit Police Chief James Craig and he said he's going to be looking into just what happens from here on out. Obviously, if there's any wrongdoing or anybody needs to be facing criminal charges for their role for Davontae Sanders wrongful imprisonment, that will shake out in the weeks and months to come.

There could also be a lawsuit on the part of Sanford's family although there is no kind of compensation in Michigan for someone that is wrongfully imprisoned. But they may have grounds for a lawsuit there.

Sanford has been serving time in Marquette and will be transported to a nearby prison Wednesday and his attorneys will pick him up from there and deliver him to his family.