Davontae Sanford's Road to Freedom

CSI Detroit

By George Hunter / The Detroit News

This police photo shows fired casings on the front lawn of the Runyon Street home. The front porch is at the left side of this picture.

Reports of shots fired are routine in Detroit. So are homicides.

Just before midnight on Sept. 17, 2007, a police dispatcher reported a citizen had heard gunshots in a house on Runyon. Police arrived to find a multiple homicide scene — the second of the day.

Hours earlier, officers were dispatched to a home in the 14000 block of Tuller on the city’s westside, where the bodies of Aaron Killough Sr., 42, and his 17-year-old son Aaron Jr., were found by a friend. Killough was a convicted drug dealer, and police said he and his son were dealing together.

The quadruple homicide on Runyon capped a bloody three days in Detroit that saw 10 killed and several others wounded by gunshots. The killings pushed the year-to-date homicide total to 271; Detroit would end the year with 391.

Homicide investigators Officer Moises Jimenez and Sgt. Gerald Williams wrote in their initial report that the motive for the Runyon killings was robbery, which differed from the story neighbors told.

Jimenez and Williams reported two neighbors approached them and said they wanted to talk, but not in the neighborhood. The officers met the two residents at the intersection of Seven Mile and Conner, about a mile south.

A 16-year-old boy told the officers he saw a white van parked outside the house where the murders took place, while a woman, 40, said there were rumors about who had pulled the trigger. She said two men from the neighborhood, known on the street as “Tone Tone” and “Twan,” had argued with the victim, Michael Robinson, earlier in the week, and the word on the street was the two men killed Robinson and his friends in retaliation.

A boy asks a question

The front door shows damage caused by bullets fired through the door. The shattered glass from the door can be seen on the floor.

Back at the crime scene, Homicide Sgt. Mike Russell was taking note of the victims’ injuries and positions; bullet holes in the front door and living room window; and spent shell casings. He wrote that two, possibly three, firearms, including an assault-type weapon, had been used.

When Russell found out the gunmen had run from the crime scene, he enlisted a K9 team to track their scent. The dog headed northwest toward State Fair, through a vacant lot at the end of the block; west along State Fair to Teppert. From there, the scent continued to Beland before stopping in the middle of the sidewalk. Police said that meant the killers likely got into a vehicle and drove away.

Russell testified in court he was canvassing Beland when he was approached by a bony, 5-foot, 5-inch teenage boy with a squinty right eye.

Davontae Sanford said he was stoned when he talked to Russell, having smoked two marijuana blunts, taken 1/2 an Ecstasy pill and drank Grey Goose Vodka earlier that night. According to Russell, Sanford, who lived on Beland at the other end of the block, asked the sergeant what he was investigating.

“You know what I’m investigating,” Russell said he replied.

Detective Dale Collins told a slightly different story in court: he testified Russell approached Sanford, and Sanford said he didn’t want to help the police.

Collins said he joined the conversation, and Sanford told him he was related to Bill Rice, former head of the Detroit Police Homicide Section. Collins, who was friends with Rice, said he later phoned the retired cop and confirmed he was dating Sanford’s aunt.

Rice also reportedly told Collins that Sanford knew what was going on in the neighborhood.

According to court records, Collins called Rice eight times over the next several hours. Rice’s cell phone records show the calls were made at 1:39 a.m., 2:54 a.m., 2:55 a.m., 3:11 a.m., 6:26 a.m., 6:44 a.m., 7:05 a.m., 8:03 a.m., and 2:35 p.m.

According to Russell, Sanford said he’d seen some people with guns running through his backyard, coming from the direction of Runyon. Sanford identified them as members of the Paid Bosses Incorporated gang.

Youthful suspect

Davontae Sanford's last school photo

Collins accompanied Sanford to his house to tell his mother he was leaving with police to help with their investigation. Sanford’s mother wasn’t home, so his grandmother signed the consent form.

Cmdr. James Tolbert then pulled up in an unmarked vehicle. According to Russell, he got into the front passenger’s seat, while Sanford slipped into the back. Tolbert drove around the neighborhood as Sanford gave more details about the men he’d seen in his backyard, according to Russell.

Other than Russell’s testimony, there is no record of what happened from the time police obtained the consent form from Sanford’s grandmother and 3:13 a.m., when Tolbert took Sanford back to the crime scene. There, a technician swabbed his hands and face for gunshot primer residue. The test later came back negative.

Russell then drove Sanford to police headquarters at 1300 Beaubien and escorted him to the fifth floor Homicide Section offices.

Sanford, who would have started 10th grade at Osborn High School the next day, was instead a suspect in a quadruple homicide.

More Information

Video: Davontae Sanford's video interview with Sgt. Mike Russell

Related: The police who investigated the crime

Police report: Summary of crime scene at Runyon Street.

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

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