Davontae Sanford's Road to Freedom

The trigger man and the teen: conflicting stories

By George Hunter / The Detroit News

Davontae Sanford (left) and Vincent Smothers

They each grew up on Detroit’s east side. Both ran with rough characters. Their lives seemed to be careening out of control in different ways.

Beyond that, the similarities between Vincent Smothers and Davontae Sanford were few before Sept. 17, 2007, when they became forever linked to the murders at 19741 Runyon.

Smothers was a killer for hire, whose previous criminal career included robbing drug dealers. The 14-year-old Sanford smoked marijuana and skipped school, but had no criminal record, although he was declared incorrigible by a juvenile court referee.

Smothers had been an honor student; Sanford was learning disabled. Smothers was quiet and calculating; Sanford was known for running his mouth.

Another difference: The statements they each gave to police about their respective roles in the Sept. 17, 2007, quadruple homicide on Runyon.

Smothers provided accurate details in his confession, while key elements of Sanford’s account don’t match the facts of the case. Sanford gave two police interviews, hours apart. Many of the errors he made in his first statement were corrected in his second.

“(Smothers) gave the police details about all his crimes, including the killings on Runyon Street,” his attorney, Gabi Silver told The Detroit News prior to prosecutors dropping the charges against Sanford “The police interviewed him about all the other cases, but never about the Runyon case. So they believed him with all the other cases, but not that one?

Silver added Smothers has cooperated with state police investigators in their latest probe.

“He’s been willing to testify Davontae Sanford had nothing to do with the killings,” she said. “Come on, now: He’s a very savvy guy; there’s no way he’d be asking a 14-year-old disabled kid to help him with a hit.”

Planning the crime

Davontae Sanford

First statement: Sanford told police he met with a group of older teens — “Tone,” “Tone Tone,” “Los” and “Carrie” — at the Coney Island at Seven Mile and Albion at 3 p.m. the day of the killings. He said they hashed out a plan to rob “Milk Dud” in his house on Runyon.

FACT: Sanford couldn’t have met with his friends at the Coney Island at Seven Mile and Albion, since it was closed for renovations.

Second statement: Sanford now said they met at the home of one of the group.

FACT: Mike Robinson has never been linked to the nickname “Milk Dud.” According to neighbors and acquaintances, Robinson’s nickname was “Big Mike.”

First Statement: Sanford said he wore a brown shirt, black hoodie and jeans.

FACT: Witnesses said the killers wore black.

Second statement: Sanford changed his story, saying he wore black.

Vincent Smothers

Smothers said he was paid to kill Michael “Big Mike” Robinson by a rival drug dealer. Smothers said he staked out Robinson’s house for about a month before the killing.

Smothers told police he and Davis wore black.

The shootings

Davontae Sanford

First statement: Sanford told police he was in on planning the killings, but changed his mind at the last minute and went home. He said he later heard gunshots, and then saw “Tone Tone” run through his yard yelling “I shot the (expletive) dog, I got to go.”

FACT: Police questioned Tone Tone, but released him after his alibi checked out. He was cleared as a suspect.

Second Statement: This time, Sanford said he went along with the plan, and that he shot the victims with his Mini-14 rifle.

FACT: No shell casings recovered from the crime scene were fired from a Mini-14.

Sanford said he and four others, “Tone,” “Tone Tone,” “Los” and “Carrie,” committed the murders.

FACT: Police interviewed all the others Sanford said were involved, and they each had solid alibis.

FACT: The witnesses interviewed by police reported seeing only two gunmen run from the house.

Sanford told police he and his friends were armed with a “chopper,” an AK-47; a mini-14; a .45; and a .38.

FACT: Sanford’s story doesn’t match the evidence, since no casings found at the crime scene had been fired from either a .38 caliber gun or a mini-14.

Sanford said he threw his mini-14 over the fence of the AT&T facility after the crime.

FACT: No gun was recovered from the property.

FACT: Sanford told authorities at least two more stories about his role in the crime:

When discussing his plea deal in court, Sanford said he committed the killings with three of his cousins: “Bug,” “T,” and “Homie.” When asked why the victims had been targeted, he said: “I guess just to rob them and take the money.”

Sanford offered yet another version during a presentence investigation interview on March 25, 2008, when he said: “It was my cousin … I told the police I didn’t shoot one time ’cause I was scared. I walked in the door and saw the bodies and got scared.”

FACT: Key elements of the case were not mentioned by Sanford, including seeing a 7-year-old boy and a woman hiding under the bed in the rear bedroom; and getting into a shootout with the man across the street.

Vincent Smothers

Smothers said he and Davis fired several shots from outside the house before they went inside and shot several more times.

FACT: Shell casings were found inside and outside the house.

Smothers told investigators he saw someone crawling through the house, so he explored the back room and found a young boy in bed, with a woman hiding underneath. Smothers said he told the boy to go to sleep, and that he wouldn’t hurt the woman.

FACT: There was a 7-year-old boy, Michael Robinson, Jr. in bed in the back bedroom, and a woman hiding beneath it. Valerie Glover, who hid under the bed, testified the gunman spoke briefly to her, although what was said is in dispute.

Smothers said he used a .40 caliber handgun and an AK-47 rifle, and that his partner had a .45 caliber pistol.

FACT: Spent shell casings found at the scene matched the guns described by Smothers.

Smothers told police where his partner’s .45 pistol was stashed in his cousin’s house.

FACT: The gun was where Smothers said it was, and a ballistics test proved it had been used in the crime.

FACT: The AK-47 shell casings found on Runyon matched those recovered from another Smothers murder-for-hire.

Smothers said he fired his AK-47 at a man who lived across the street from the Runyon house, after the man shot at him.

FACT: The Rev. Jesse King, a Detroit Police chaplain, said one of the gunmen fired shots at him with a long gun, and that he returned fire.

More Information

Police report: Summary of crime scene at Runyon Street.

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

Document: Davontae Sanford's initial written statement to police.

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