Davontae Sanford's Road to Freedom
The Hitman: Vincent Smothers
He claims he killed 12 people over seven jobs
By George Hunter / The Detroit News
The tattoos tell the story: “Lost soul.” “I never hesitate.” On both arms: “RIP.” And, in big red letters across his back: “Vito.”
Before Vito the hit man, there was Vincent Smothers, a soft-spoken Kettering High School honor student from a working-class family on Detroit’s east side, according to interviews he’s given to police and media.
Things began to go bad at age 16 when his sister Keilea, a year younger, was killed by a stray bullet meant for the eldest Smothers sibling, Dion, a small-time dope dealer who had ripped off the gunman days earlier.
After his sister’s death, Smothers said he started skipping school and breaking the law. His grades slipped. He had to miss his graduation ceremony because he was in jail for stealing a car.
After graduating high school, he went to work for a heating and cooling company. He was later promoted to shop manager, although he said in a court deposition he had a side job.
“To supplement my income … I robbed drug dealers, ranging from petty sales guy to larger distributers,” he said.
In 2000, Smothers was arrested in Oak Park for driving a stolen car.
Police found a 9mm pistol stashed in the back seat. He pleaded guilty to receiving and concealing stolen property, felony firearm possession and concealing or misrepresenting identification with the intent to mislead police. It was his third stolen car conviction, and he spent 11/2 years in jail.
When he got out, he returned to his job at the heating and cooling company, while also continuing to rob drug dealers, court records show.
In his free time he hung out on Medbury with an old high school crew. Smothers says in the summer of 2006, one of his crew, “Leroy,” asked him an odd question.
“He asked me how much I would charge to kill someone,” Smothers said in a court affidavit. “I did not take him seriously, but I threw out a number ($5,000) anyway. He stepped out, made a phone call, and told me it was a deal.
“Less than a month after I completed this first hit, I got in a motorcycle accident that prevented me from going to work at Metal Services. When it was time to return to work, they told me they were going to cut my pay.
“Within a few weeks, Leroy asked me to do another hit. I agreed and stopped working for Metal Services shortly thereafter. Committing hits for Leroy soon became my primary source of income.”
Smothers said he killed 12 people in his seven jobs, although he’s only been convicted of eight killings, since prosecutors never questioned him in the four murders on Runyon.
After he killed Rose Cobb, the wife of a Detroit police sergeant, Smothers said he was overcome with guilt. He told police he didn’t mind killing dope dealers, “but I never liked to involve innocent people.”
“My stomach was in knots. I felt like she was innocent. ... All the rest were dope dealers.”
Smothers said he decided to get out of the hit man business. He and his wife, Cecily, and her daughter moved to a small row house in Shelby Township.
Even though Smothers said he was no longer involved in crime, he was concerned he knew too much.
“Once I made myself unavailable (to kill), I always had to worry about maybe there was a price on my head,” he said in the affidavit.
Smothers said he became a “homebody” for the first few months of 2008. His wife gave birth to a girl they named Keilea, after Smothers’ sister who’d been killed at age 15.
But as Smothers was enjoying the quiet life, investigators were tracking him. One of Smothers’ friends was arrested for selling drugs, and cut a deal for a lighter sentence if he gave up a hit man. When the dealer mentioned Smothers, police put his mugshot among others in a “six pack” photo lineup, and a woman who had survived one of Smothers’ hits picked him out.
Smothers’ daughter was only 3 weeks old when he carried her out of his house to the store. As he walked outside with his baby in his arms, police swarmed in on him and ordered him to the ground. An officer took Keilea from him; another officer put him into a squad car.
When a detective questioned him hours later, Smothers said he wanted to tell everything.