Davontae Sanford's Road to Freedom
Vincent Smothers' victims, convicted and alleged
By George Hunter / The Detroit News
A rundown of the known victims of confessed contract-killer Vincent Smothers:
July 1, 2006 Willie Watson
Smothers said his friend Leroy was the middleman for most of his hits, including his first: Willis “Black Will” Watson.
Watson, 33, was killed while smoking a cigarette on his porch in the 19000 block of Omira.
Aug. 16, 2006 Adrian “AD” Thornton
A drug dispute put a target on Adrian Thornton’s back.
“Lano,” the dope dealer who paid Smothers to kill, even though the two never met, wanted a pair of rivals dead: 27-year-old Thornton, known as “AD,” and his brother, Carl Thornton. Both were drug dealers who supposedly had shot one of Lano’s crew years earlier. According to Smothers, Lano wanted payback.
On the afternoon of Aug. 16, 2006, Smothers was lying in wait when “AD” and his best friend, Ken “Motorhead” McKennedy, walked out of Thornton’s dope house on Strasburg, Smothers told police. With a pistol in each hand, Smothers opened fire as his victims stepped onto the porch. Thornton stumbled down the steps and about 10 feet before collapsing, according to Smothers and police reports. McKennedy survived a gunshot to the head.
Jan 17, 2007 Carl Thornton
Smothers had been paid to kill a pair of brothers, but had only killed one. The hit man waited five months to finish the job.
Smothers said he returned to the same eastside area where he’d killed Adrian Thornton and waited in an abandoned house until Carl Thornton, 29, pulled up. As the victim got out of his car, Smothers gunned him down, and shot his 22-year-old female companion in the buttocks. She survived.
May 24, 2007 Marshall White and Johnny Marshall
Vincent Smothers dealt only with his friend Leroy when negotiating hits. Leroy worked for a man named DeLano Thomas, known on the street as “Lano,” who in turn worked for drug kingpin Adarus Mazio Black.
Black was convicted in federal court of orchestrating a scheme using Chicago-based concert tour buses to shuttle drugs and cash around the country. The FBI searched the buses in April 2007 and a federal indictment named two bus drivers as having cooperated with authorities.
A month later, Smothers said he got his third job: Killing two bus drivers from Chicago. The U.S. Department of Justice accused Black of paying Smothers to kill the two drivers, although Black was never convicted of murder. He was, however, found guilty of running the drug enterprise, and is serving a life prison sentence.
Brown had told the two bus drivers to meet him on an eastside street corner. The plan was for Smothers to meet them instead, and kill them both, according to court testimony.
But as Smothers was driving to the location, he said his car broke down. He continued on foot, calling “Leroy” to tell him he’d need a ride. But as he spoke with his friend, Smother spotted the two targets: Their car had also stalled, and was pulled over to the side of the road at Jos. Campau and the Interstate 94 service drive.
Smothers said he continued his cell phone conversation as he executed both men: Marshall, 64, was shot as he looked under the car’s hood; Smothers said he then fired through the windshield, killing White, 56.
He walked away, Smothers said, and told “Leroy” the job was done, and that he needed a ride home.
June 21, 2007 Clarence Cherry and Gaudrielle Webster
Smothers said his fourth assignment from “Lano” was to kill drug dealer Clarence Cherry.
Smothers dressed in a suit for the occasion. This time, he brought along an accomplice: Lakari Berry, whom Smothers later called “a fool.”
The two broke into a house on Gravier Street and demanded to know where the money is in what Smothers said was a ploy to make people think robbery was the motive for the killings. But Cherry wasn’t home; only his girlfriend, Gaudrielle Webster, her friend, Karsia Rice, and two children.
Smothers and Berry ordered Webster to call her boyfriend to lure him to the house. She complied, and when Cherry arrived, Smothers and Berry shot him 20 times. They then shot Webster and Rice. Rice survived, but the head wound left her blind in one eye.
As Smothers and Berry escaped, someone jotted down Berry’s license plate number. Police tracked him down and he was charged and convicted in the killings. Berry, who was sentenced to life in prison without parole, never mentioned Smothers’ involvement.
Sept. 17, 2007 Michael Robinson, Dangelo McNoriell, Brian Dixon and Nicole Chapman
Smothers confessed to the killings on Runyon, and a Michigan State Police investigation found he was responsible, although prosecutors are still weighing charges against him. The following is based on Smothers’ statement to police.
Michael Robinson, a marijuana dealer who grew his product in the basement, was often seen sitting on his porch, selling weed and putting the proceeds into a shoebox he kept next to him. On Sept. 17, 2007, he had friends over to watch the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles face off on Monday Night Football: Danelo McNoriell, and Brian Dixon and his girlfriend of six years, Nicole Chapman, a former Southfield High School homecoming queen who worked at the school’s book depository after graduating in 1996, and Valerie Glover.
At about 11:30 p.m., four of them were gunned down in the living room of Robinson’s home on Runyon. Glover was shot five times, but survived by crawling into a back bedroom and hiding under a bed.
Smothers said he and Ernest “Nemo” Davis were responsible for the killings, but Davontae Sanford, 14 years old at the time of the homicide, was convicted after giving a confession to police that was rife with inaccuracies, in contrast to Smothers’ accurate account.
Dec. 26, 2007 Rose Cobb
One of the killings not ordered by “Lano” was the execution of Rose Cobb, the 47-year-old wife of Detroit Police Sgt. David Cobb.
That job was set up by Marzell Black, the son of Cobb’s girlfriend. Black introduced Cobb to Smothers, whom he knew from neighborhood basketball games.
When they met to plan the crime, Cobb told the hit man he should expect to be questioned about the murder, Smothers told police.
“He said, ‘As long as they don’t have the gun, they don’t have nothing,’ ” Smothers told police, adding Cobb told him five times to make sure to get rid of the murder weapon.
“(Cobb) said I wouldn’t get any less time if I said he hired me,” Smothers told investigators.
The details of the hit were worked out: Smothers was to kill Rose Cobb as she sat in her minivan outside the CVS drug store on East Jefferson and Dickerson. Cobb handed Smothers gloves and protective sleeves to keep gun residue from his hands and arms.
The night of the hit, David Cobb told his wife he needed to run into the store for a second. While he was inside, Smothers said he killed Rose Cobb, but tried to make it look like a robbery.
“I broke out the window, and demanded her purse. She was screaming. She was afraid. I wanted to take her purse so it wouldn’t look like a contract kill, but she was panicking; moving around too much. To keep from any further delay, I shot her in the head. She fell across the console toward the driver’s seat.”
Smothers said the Rose Cobb job made him consider getting out of the killing business.
When asked how he felt after killing the woman, Smothers told police, “My stomach was in knots. I thought she was innocent.”
Smothers said Cobb reneged on the $10,000 payment, giving him just $50 and saying he’d pay the rest later to avoid suspicion.