Davontae Sanford's Road to Freedom

The Kid: Davontae Sanford

By George Hunter / The Detroit News

Davontae Sanford was still in his mother’s womb when life started dealing him tough blows.


“I was pregnant with Davontae and his father kept beating me,” said Taminko Sanford-Tilmon. “He jumped on me three times; the fourth time he put me in the hospital. I pressed charges and he went to jail for that.”

Things didn’t get easier for Sanford after he was born.

He grew up on Detroit’s east side, in a neighborhood permeated with gangs and drugs. When Sanford was 6, his house caught fire.

“I found him hiding in the closet," Sanford-Tilmon said. “I had to pull him out.”

At age 7, Sanford got into a fight with a boy who threw an egg at him.

“It hit him in the eye and the shell cut it,” Sanford-Tilmon said. “He was in surgery for 12 hours, and they put him in ICU.”

The incident left Sanford blind in his right eye, opening him up to ridicule from other kids. His learning disability was more fodder for the bullies.

Sanford was diagnosed in elementary school with having learning, emotional and behavioral disabilities, although his IQ was listed in the court documents as normal to below normal.

Before his arrest, Sanford had two brushes with the law: disturbing the peace and trespassing, court files show. According to his presentencing report prepared by prosecutors, Sanford’s mother petitioned juvenile court when he was 11 years old, resulting in a finding of incorrigible. But he had no criminal record.

On Sept. 17, 2007, a bad situation got worse.

After his arrest for the Runyon murders, Sanford told psychologist Lynne Schwartz: “I’m not an aggressive person. I don’t bring trouble, but trouble comes to me. For some reason, trouble loves me.”

More Information

Davontae Sanford's initial written statement to police.

Reports and affidavits of psychologists who interviewed Sanford to determine competency.

Video of Davontae Sanford's interview with police regarding his written statement.

Video of Sanford’s mother, Taminko Sanford, talking about her son.

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