Davontae Sanford's Road to Freedom
A timeline of events
By George Hunter / The Detroit News
July 1, 2006 Smothers kills his first victim, Willie Watson
Aug. 16, 2006 Smothers murders Adrian Thornton
Jan. 17, 2007 Smothers kills Carl Thornton
May 24, 2007 Smothers kills Marshall White and Johnny Marshall
June 21, 2007 Smothers and Lakari Berry kill Clarence Cherry and Guadrielle Webster
Sept. 17, 2007 Drug dealer Michael Robinson, and friends Dangelo McNoriell, Brian Dixon and Nicole Chapman are gunned down in a house at 17941 Runyan St. Smothers says he did it; prosecutors say Sanford was responsible.
Sept. 18, 2007, 3 a.m. Sanford gives his first statement to police.
8:40 p.m. Sanford gives a second statement to police. He is arrested and booked for first-degree murder.
Sept. 24, 2007 Sanford is arraigned on first-degree murder charges. A not-guilty plea is entered on his behalf.
Oct. 1, 2007 Court-appointed attorney Donald Cook represents Sanford during his preliminary examination, although during the proceedings Robert Slameka is retained and takes over the defense. Sanford is bound over for trial.
March 17, 2008 Sanford’s bench trial begins.
March 18, 2008 Sanford pleads guilty to second-degree murder.
April 4, 2008 Wayne Circuit Judge Brian Sullivan sentences Sanford to 37-90 years in prison
April 19, 2008 Vincent Smothers is arrested.
April 20, 2008 Smothers confesses to several murders, including the Runyan Street killings for which Sanford was convicted.
April 21, 2008 Smothers is arraigned on eight first-degree murder charges.
May 19, 2008 Smothers is bound over for trial.
Oct. 2, 2008: Attorney Kim McGinnis of the State Appellate Defender’s Office takes over Sanford’s case and files a motion to withdraw his guilty plea.
Jan. 15, 2009 Judge Brian Sullivan denies the motion to withdraw Sanford’s guilty plea. McGinnis says she found out from a journalist after the hearing that Smothers had confessed to the Runyan killings.
May 8, 2009 The Michigan Court of Appeals reverses Sullivan and orders the lower court to hold a hearing on Sanford’s request to withdraw his guilty plea.
May 22, 2009 Smothers invokes his Fifth Amendment rights and says he doesn’t want to testify to Sanford’s innocence, but waives attorney-client privilege to allow his attorney, Gabi Silver, to testify. After Sullivan denies the request, Smothers says he’ll testify. But Sullivan won’t allow it. After a hearing, Sullivan denies Sanford’s request to withdraw his guilty plea.
Dec. 26, 2009 Smothers tries unsuccessfully to commit suicide by hanging himself in his Wayne County Jail cell.
June 7, 2010 Smothers cuts a plea deal with prosecutors and pleads guilty to second-degree murder in eight killings.
July 23, 2010 Wayne Circuit Judge Curtis Strong sentences Smothers to 50-100 years in prison.
Sept. 26, 2013 The Michigan Court of Appeals reverses Sullivan’s decision and orders him to allow Smothers to testify.
April 25, 2014 The Michigan Supreme Court vacated the appellate court ruling, because it ruled a to withdraw a guilty plea was the wrong vehicle for an innocence claim.
April 15, 2015 The University of Michigan Innocence Clinic and Northwestern University School of Law file a motion seeking a new trial, based on what they say is new evidence that wasn’t available when Sanford was convicted.
May 4, 2015 Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy sends Michigan State Police a letter asking for “investigative assistance” on the Sanford case. State police agree to take on the case.
May, 2016: State police complete their investigation, and plan to submit to prosecutors warrant requests for the arrests of Smothers and Ernest Davis, according to Detroit News police sources. The state investigation finds Sanford was not involved in the Runyan killings, sources said.
June 7, 2016: Wayne Circuit Judge Brian Sullivan vacates Sanford’s sentence, and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announces she will drop the charges against him.
June 8, 2016 Sanford walks out of the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in Ionia a free man.
July 12, 2016 Prosecutors deny the perjury warrant against Tolbert, saying there isn’t enough evidence to charge him.
July 19, 2016 Wayne Circuit Judge Brian Sullivan signs prosecutors’ motion to dismiss charges against Sanford, officially bringing the case to a close.