Davontae Sanford's Road to Freedom

The hit man's helpers

By George Hunter / The Detroit News

A rundown of those who aided hit man Vincent Smothers:

Ernest “Nemo” Davis

Ernest Davis

In a world of hardcore criminals, Ernest “Nemo” Davis had a reputation of being particularly ruthless.

Davis’ reputation is why Vincent Smothers says he wanted his help killing a dope dealer. Drug dealers were usually armed, Smothers said in a court affidavit, and “I knew that Nemo was the kind of guy who would pull a trigger with no questions asked.”

The detective who interrogated Smothers said he was surprised Davis hadn’t yet been killed.

Smothers told police Davis helped him commit the four Sept. 17, 2007, murders on Runyon, although Davis has never been charged with the crime.

After a 10-month investigation, Michigan State Police on April 28 submitted warrant requests for Smothers and Davis, police sources familiar with the case told The Detroit News. Sanford was not mentioned in the investigation as having any part of the crime, sources said.

In an unrelated incident, Davis was convicted three years ago for the Dec. 22, 2012, shooting of a security guard. He is serving up to 15 years in prison.

James Davis

James Davis

According to police investigating Vincent Smothers, the hit man and his friend, Ernest Davis, were connected to Davis’ cousin, James Davis, who lived near Lexington, Kentucky.

Detroit Police investigator Ira Todd said he spoke with Lexington police, who warned him Davis was being investigated for mortgage fraud and drug-dealing, and that he was reportedly connected with former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

Todd says he was told to remove that information from his report. When he refused, he says he was demoted. Todd sued the city; the case is pending, his attorney Mike Stefani said.

In 2007, police found Smothers’ best friend, Daeyre Alexander, dead from a gunshot wound to the head inside a burned cream-colored Cadillac Escalade. The Kentucky plates on the vehicle were registered to James Davis. According to a 2008 internal memo written by Detective M.S. Evans of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Division of Police, Smothers told Lexington investigators, Alexander was killed because of a dispute over a woman. Smothers also told police he’d planned to kill whoever was responsible, but that he couldn’t figure out who had done it.

Detroit Police Officer Alejandro Parra, a member of the Violent Crimes Task Force, said during a 2009 court deposition the cream-colored Escalade was thought by some investigators to have been used in the 2003 drive-by killing of exotic dancer Tamara “Strawberry” Greene, who was rumored to have danced at a party Kilpatrick allegedly threw at the Manoogian Mansion.

“It was definitely talked about during our briefings because of some of the connections,” Parra said. “There was a cream colored SUV located that was burned. It had Kentucky plates on it. It came back to James Davis. From what we understood, there was a light colored or cream colored SUV that did the drive-by when Strawberry was killed. So we definitely had that; when we were preliminarily talking about the case that was one of the theories that came up, that he may have done that.”

Greene’s killing has never been solved.

Davis was indicted in 2010 for his role in a multimillion dollar mortgage fraud scheme. He pleaded guilty in 2011 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and was sentenced to a year in prison. Davis was released in 2013 and is reportedly living in Metro Detroit. The News was unable to contact him for comment.

Lakari Berry

marzell-blackVincent Smothers carried out most of his hits alone, but in a few instances he employed help. Lakari Berry was recruited for the killing of drug dealer Clarence Cherry.

Smothers and Berry broke into Cherry’s house on Gravier and, when Cherry wasn’t home, the two forced his girlfriend, Gaudrielle Webster, to phone him and lure him to the house. When Cherry arrived, the two gunmen shot him 20 times. Then they shot Webster and her friend, Karsia Rice, who survived.

As Smothers and Berry escaped in Berry’s car, someone jotted down the license plate number. Police tracked Berry down and he was charged and convicted in the killings.

Berry, who was sentenced to life in prison without parole, never mentioned Smothers’ involvement in the killings.

Marzell Black


When Detroit Police Sgt. David Cobb, the man dating Marzell Black’s mother said he wanted someone killed, Black introduced him to a friend from the local basketball courts: Vincent Smothers.

As it turned out, Cobb wanted his wife, Rose killed. He promised Smothers he’d pay him $10,000 from his wife’s life insurance money.

On Dec. 26, 2007, David Cobb pulled into the parking lot of a CVS store on East Jefferson and Dickerson and told his wife he was running inside for a second.

Smothers and Black were waiting in Black’s car. As soon as she was alone, Smothers said he broker her car window and demanded her purse to make the crime look like a robbery. He said he then fatally shot her in the head and Black drove him away.

Black was convicted of solicitation of murder, and is serving a 15- to 40-year prison sentence.

Leroy 'Bay Bay' Payne

When a hit was ordered, “Bay Bay” was the middle man, according to Vincent Smothers.

Smothers said in his 2015 affidavit Payne worked for a dealer named Delano Thomas, now deceased. Smothers said Payne, a longtime acquaintance, approached him in 2006 with an odd request:  “He asked me how much I would charge to kill someone. 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.”

Smothers said Payne hired him for several hits. “Leroy told me that the request for most … of the hits were not coming from him but from a higher-up drug dealer named Delano ‘Lano’ Thomas,” Smothers said. He said he never met Thomas face-to-face.

“Leroy and I never discussed the specific plans for any of the murders,” Smothers wrote. “He left the logistics up to me, including the timing of the hit, the strategy, and whether or not I asked someone to help me.

“By June of 2007, I had committed five hits and Leroy’s request that resulted in seven murders. I never asked too much about why these people were being murdered. I stayed out of Lano’s and Leroy’s drug business and just concentrated on completing my assigned hits.”

Smothers Payne hired him to kill drug dealer Michael Robinson, who lived at 19741 Runyon. The hit man said he accomplished his mission, with three others killed as collateral damage.

Payne has not been charged in connection with the Runyon murders, although state police named him as a suspect in their investigative report into the Runyon killings.

According to the Michigan State Police report into the September, 2007 killings: “Smothers explained that the Runyon Street homicides were one of several contract killings that were contracted by Leroy Payne.”

During the state investigation, detectives reached out to Payne’s attorney Mark Magidson, who wrote back: “Mr. Payne is going to decline the invitation to talk to you.”

Magidson told The News Payne moved out of the state after detectives started asking questions.

“I haven’t talked to him in some months,” Magidson said, adding he had represented Payne in civil cases before being contacted to answer a state police interview request.

“After the state police contacted him, he contacted me to respond to them, and I discussed his various options, whether to talk to police or not,” Magidson said.

Regarding Smothers’ contention Payne had paid him for the hits, Magidson said: “Other than the fact that there’s a convicted murderer who is making certain allegations, that’s the only entity I know of that’s making any charges.

“I asked the state police if they have any warrants, to let me know. At that time I was in contact with him, and I could make arrangements to bring him in. But I don’t know if I have any viable for numbers for him at this point. I’m as much in the dark as anyone else.”


More Information

Related: Who were Vincent Smothers' victims?

Document: Vincent Smothers' written confession to police.

Document: Vincent Smothers' court affidavit

Video: Vincent Smothers interview with police in which he details multiple contract killings

Return to table of contents