“I guess when I can finally hug Davontae I will know it is real. I haven’t touched or hugged him for 8 years.”—Mother Taminko Sanford-Tilmon
“Kym Worthy has known for years of the real statements coming from the confessed hit man”—Bill Proctor
Vincent Smothers confessed to Detroit Police two weeks after Davontae was sentenced; Sgt. Ira Todd was demoted for insisting on Sanford’s innocence
Worthy press conference held Thurs. June 9: falsely blames child’s lawyers for not challenging guilty plea, producing experts to testify to state of mind
Sanford family’s press conference Thurs. June 9, 2 p.m. at 13560 E. McNichols, Detroit
By Diane Bukowski
June 8, 2016, updated June 9, 2016
DETROIT – In a stunning turn of events that exposed the guilt of all who kept an innocent Davontae Sanford locked up since the age of 14, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Brian Sullivan vacated Sanford’s 37-90 year sentence for four killings on Runyon Street in 2oo7, and ordered his immediate release during a hearing June 7.
He should be home in his family’s arms today, away from the brutal prison life he endured, which included constant harassment and torture by guards.
The Detroit Police Department, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, and Judge Sullivan knew of self-admitted hit man Vincent Smothers’ detailed confession to the murders two weeks after Davontae was sentenced on April 4, 2008, but led what amounted to a criminal cover-up. In a perfect world, they would now be charged with obstruction of justice and jailed themselves.
Sanford’s mother, Taminko Sanford-Tilmon, her husband Jermaine Tilmon, and Sanford’s siblings led the excruciating battle to extract their son and brother from “the belly of the beast,” for the next nine years without pause.
“There were days and times I never thought my son would ever see daylight again, my darkest moments, his birthday, or just because I would crawl in a corner on many days and didn’t want to come out,” Sanford-Tilmon wrote on Facebook.
“But God!!! [kept] giving me the strength to fight n God Blessed us with people that wanted to support n fight n love Davontae like he was theirs. I’m blessed, numb, overwhelmed and full of joy and nervous all at the same time. It doesn’t seem real due to all the bumps we hit in this case. I guess when I can finally hug Davontae I will know it is real. I haven’t touched or hugged him in eight years. If you’re going through something just know God is able. Your presence support and love has truly blessed us. Dinner will be coming but first my job is to protect my son, alone with his family and his true supporters. Davontae is our main force and priority. He will be with us tomorrow.”
In video below, Sanford-Tilmon speaks out during press conference sponsored in 2015 by two Innocence Clinics seeking to free Davontae.
Former Channel 7 News reporter Bill Proctor covered the case in its early years, even opening his own Innocence Clinic.
“We revealed the misconduct of the Detroit Police Department way back when this happened,” Proctor told Channel 7 reporter Simon Chayket in the video at the top of this story.
“And the fact of the matter is the prosecutor’s office, Kym Worthy, has known for years of the real statements coming from the confessed hit man, in fact she structured out a deal for him to essentially send him off to prison without including this case,” Proctor said.
“She has known for years. Finally Davontae Sanford, his mother, his siblings, are all going to get justice, but they have known for all these years that the wrong person was in prison and that the right man had confessed. Vincent Smothers had a lot more credibility for these killings than anyone else on this planet.”
An appeals court ruled Sept. 26, 2013 that Smothers must be allowed to testify at post-conviction hearings in front of Sullivan, along with experts on coerced confessions, the evident lynchpin in Sullivan’s decision to free the young man. Sullivan had repeatedly refused to allow his testimony during earlier hearings where Sanford was represented by Attorney Kim McGinnis of the State Appellate Defender’s Office.
“He’s not guilty. He didn’t do it,” Smothers told AP reporter Ed White in a prison interview. “I understand what prison life is like; it’s miserable. To be here and be innocent – I don’t know what it’s like. He’s a kid, and I hate for him to do the kind of time they’re giving him.”
Smothers’ account of the murders matched forensic and ballistics evidence at the scene perfectly, while Davontae’s confession as a child of 14, naming three young friends who were never tried, was grossly inaccurate.
Prosecutor Worthy’s office issued a statement, saying in part, “Today, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office and the defense attempted to file a stipulated order to dismiss all charges against Sanford, without prejudice. However, Wayne County Third Circuit Court Judge Brian Sullivan signed an order vacating Sanford’s conviction and sentence, and directing that the Michigan Department of Corrections immediately release Sanford on his own recognizance. The court ordered the People to file a Motion to Dismiss the Case, which the court will review.”
A motion to dismiss charges WITHOUT prejudice means they can be brought back again when and if the Prosecutor desires. Worthy said SHE decided to call in the Michigan State Police to re-investigate the case, nine years after the fact, after Sanford’s attorneys from two Innocence Clinics filed a motion for relief from judgment in 2015.
“One year later, on May 20, 2016, the State Police submitted a report of their investigation,” the release says. “Included in that report is a recorded interview in which former Deputy Chief James Tolbert contradicts his sworn testimony that Davontae Sanford drew the entire diagram of the crime scene, including the location of the victims’ bodies, while being questioned by the police. This called into question Tolbert’s credibility in the case.”
The statement says she will hold a press conference tomorrow, Thurs. June 9, at 10 a.m. in the 12th floor conference room of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, located in the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, 1441 St. Antoine Street, Detroit, Michigan.
Roberto Guzman, a paralegal who worked on behalf of the family, told VOD, “Worthy is not confessing wrongdoing . She knew about it all the time but she claims surprise now.”
He added that Sanford needs to “file a Section 183 claim for wrongful conviction, a claim for legal malpractice. They took away this child’s life. He’s going to need intense psychotherapy when he gets out. His damages are in the millions of dollars. He goes in there as a child and comes out as a man. Keep in mind the post-traumatic stress syndrome he will be suffering. It was a torture chamber in there for him. He was beaten up for breakfast, lunch and dinner by the guards.”
Taminko Sanford-Tilmon said Davontae and his family, with their attorneys, will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. Thursday, June 9 at a church in the Matrix Human Center, located at 13560 E. McNichols, in Detroit.
Above is video of Kym Worthy’s press conference filmed by Fox 2 News. This reporter was denied access to the press conference for having arrived 5 minutes late and then being told she would have to wait until an escort came down from the prosecutor’s office. It is clear from the video that the press conference started late, so there was no reason to deny this reporter access.
VOD’s commentary on the content of this press conference will be published later. Meanwhile, the stories VOD has done over the years, including coverage of the post-conviction hearings in front of Brian Sullivan and the Court of Appeals hearing, are listed below. They contradict many of Worthy’s allegations at the press conference.–Diane Bukowski