STORY: "Death of innocence: Davontae Sanford’s twisted road to freedom," by George Hunter, published by the Detroit Free Press, published on July 25, 2016.
GIST: "A conversation with a cop sent Davontae Sanford’s life spiraling out of control. It was Sept. 17, 2007. Four people had been gunned down in a drug house on Runyon, two blocks from the 14-year-old Sanford’s home on Detroit’s east side. When the teen ventured outside to see what was happening, he said he was approached by a Detroit Police homicide detective, who asked what he knew about the killings. That question and the police’s actions afterward eventually led to Sanford confessing and pleading guilty to murders he didn’t commit. Sanford says he was a naive kid whose confession and guilty plea were coerced by police and his defense attorney. “I was young; I was just lost in space,” he said. “I couldn’t really comprehend what was going on; it all happened so fast. I got arrested, and ... eight months later I was in prison.”.........For Inmate #684070, it would be a long road to freedom. An eight-year struggle by family, lawyers and supporters to exonerate Sanford was repeatedly stymied by prosecutors who insisted his conviction was solid. The case became a national cause for innocence advocates who called Sanford’s conviction a miscarriage of justice. “This is the most compelling case you’ll ever see, because it shows how the system can totally fail a young boy,” said David Moran of the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic, which represented Sanford’s appeal. “It’s the thickest file we’ve ever had here at the Michigan Innocence Clinic, and this case had some of the most complex issues we’ve ever handled. “So many things went wrong at so many levels, and so many actors were involved, that it’s really an indictment on the entire criminal justice system in Wayne County. There’s plenty of blame to go around.”.........Sanford’s luck changed in May, when Michigan State Police submitted the results of their 11-month reinvestigation of the case: They said someone else had committed the killings for which Sanford was convicted.] The findings set off a whirlwind of developments in Sanford’s case, and after fighting for eight years, Sanford’s team was finally rewarded when he walked out of the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in Ionia on June 8, smiling and squinting into the sun. He was free.........‘Just sign your initials’: Sanford remembers what his aunt served for dinner the night his life changed nine years ago: A roast with potatoes and carrots. When Sanford returned home, his mother told him four people had just been killed on Runyon. “News vans and police cars had that area blocked off. I start walking up the street … that’s when … (Sgt. Mike Russell) started asking me questions … have I heard or seen anything.” “I told them I didn’t know nothing; that’s when they said they wanted to question me. They brought me back to my house to get a consent form from my grandmother.” Tolbert, then a commander in charge of the Major Crimes Section, drove Sanford around for about two hours, according to Sanford and state police. “(Tolbert) wanted to know who could have done something like this; what guys were doing in the neighborhood, that kind of stuff.”Why was he being interviewed? “I asked them ... They said, ‘this is something we need to do.’ ” At about 3 a.m., Tolbert dropped Sanford off on Runyon, where police technicians tested his hands and clothing for gunshot residue. The test was negative. “We went to Coney Island, got something to eat. We went back to 1300 Beaubien (former police headquarters); they let me get on the computer. (They were) friendly. It wasn’t hostile at all.” Sanford said he was pressured into telling police something, so he made up a story about four older teens from his neighborhood. Police cleared the four after their alibis checked out. “My first statement was took. They all left, and I spent the night at 1300 Beaubien, sleeping on the couch. I was woken up by (homicide investigator) Barbara Simon. She had my statement; she was like ‘sign your name here, here, here, here.’ I told her, ‘I can’t read.’ She said ‘just sign your initials.’ ” Officers then took Sanford home. Later that day, police returned to his house. “They told my mother, ‘we think your son knows something; we think your son’s lying; he needs to tell the truth.’ And I told them repeatedly: ‘I don’t know nothing. I don’t know nothing.’ ” Sanford said Russell told his mom: “We just want to talk to him one more time. I promise you we’re going to bring him home. I promise you we’re going to bring your son back.” Sanford said Russell and Tolbert told him to sign a typewritten statement saying he was involved in the killings. “Once I sign the statement, he was like ‘I’m about to take you to the precinct so we can get this on camera. Once we do that I’m taking you home. “Once they got me there, they fingerprinted me, took pictures. And it’s still not registering to me what is really going on. After the interview was over, I’m thinking, ‘OK, I’m about to go home; this is it.’ When I got back in the back of the car, (Russell) was like, ‘I’m sorry to tell you this, but I can’t take you home. I gotta take you to juvenile.” Detroit police have launched an internal investigation into how detectives handled the case, police Chief James Craig said. Russell, who now runs the Detroit Police Arson Unit, defended his work in the Sanford case. “I did nothing improper, so I’m not worried about anything,” he told The Detroit News. “I handled everything by the book.” Earliest release date: 2046; After Sanford was charged with first-degree murder, he said his attorney Robert Slameka convinced him to plead guilty to second-degree murder, and to seek a bench trial. “(He said), ‘you’re a black kid from the ghetto; these white people from the suburbs are gonna come in here and they’re gonna find you guilty.’ ” Sanford said Slameka, who has been disciplined several times for failing to properly serve clients, said he was friends with the judge, and promised Sanford he’d get a light sentence. Sullivan gave him 37-90 years. Slameka has not returned several phone calls seeking comment."
The entire story can be found at:
See Shaun King's moving commentary in the New York Daily News 'Blind 14-year-old Detroit boy Davontae Sanford spends nine years in prison for four murders he didn't commit' at the link below; "Davontae Sanford might've been a man when he was exonerated, but he was no man when he was wrongfully framed, forced into a confession and convicted for a quadruple murder he did not commit. He was just a boy — a black boy, completely blind in one eye and developmentally impaired — who was found by police wandering in a Detroit neighborhood in his pajamas the night the murder took place in a nearby drug house. He wasn't bloody. He didn't have a murder weapon. He wasn't covered in gunshot residue from the dozen bullets he would've had to fire to kill four people. He wasn't seen going in and out of the house by eyewitnesses. He wasn't known as a local thug who'd kill you if you crossed him. He was just young and black, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Only 14 years old, Davontae Sanford, after being picked up by police in his pajamas and taken to a local precinct, was interrogated for two days without an attorney or any family present. Finally, Sanford confessed. Any child under so much pressure would've considered the same thing. Even though no evidence backed up Sanford committing the crime, and his outrageous confession got more details wrong about the case than it got right, police made it stick. Officers falsely claimed Sanford drew a diagram of the crime scene. That never happened. Whatever Sanford knew, he knew because police told him. It stuck, though. From that day in September 2007 until last month, Davontae Sanford never saw another free day. Convicted for all four murders, he was tried as an adult, and sentenced to 37 to 90 years in prison.........Davontae Sanford spent each and every day of those nine years in prison. Like most of us would've felt, he wanted to die and attempted suicide while incarcerated. Anything seemed better than being there — for the rest of his life. Then, four full years ago, another man, Vincent Smothers, already in prison for eight other murders, confessed it was him who shot and killed four people in the drug house that night in 2007. He had been hired to do it as he had been hired before. He had never even seen or heard of Davontae Sanford and openly said Sanford played no role whatsoever in the murders. Year after year, Smothers continued to claim the crimes as his own, offering details that only the murderer could've known. Attorneys for Davontae Sanford repeatedly attempted to appeal the conviction, but were denied. In 2014, Smothers even offered a 26-page affidavit in which he detailed every single aspect of the crime. Finally, earlier this year, local prosecutors agreed to hear the case and the wheels were set in motion to free a man who had his childhood stolen from him. Davontae Sanford, in June, without even an apology from prosecutors or police, walked out of prison when a Detroit judge ordered his release because of a wrongful conviction."
The entire commentary can be found at:
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The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: