Published: Monday, July 25, 2011, 1:14 PM Updated: Tuesday, July 26, 2011, 7:37 AM
A lawyer trying to overturn a teenager’s four murder convictions closed her case Monday with testimony from an investigator who said a Detroit hit man already in prison for killing eight people took responsibility for the same four slayings and “absolutely” wasn’t aided by a young accomplice.
Linda Borus, an investigator with the Michigan appellate defender office, was the last witness for Davontae Sanford in a long series of hearings. Sanford was just 14 in 2007 when he told police that he fatally shot four people in his Detroit neighborhood. He subsequently pleaded guilty to murder and won’t be eligible for parole until 2046.
For more than two years, attorney Kim McGinnis has been trying to get those guilty pleas thrown out. She says Sanford, a troubled kid who could barely read or write, simply was trying to please police. Her strongest piece of evidence may be the confession of self-described hit man Vincent Smothers.
Smothers, sent to prison last year for eight mostly drug-related murders, told police after his arrest that he committed the so-called Runyon Street killings. But by that time, spring 2008, Sanford had already pleaded guilty and was locked up.
Borus testified Monday that she visited Smothers in prison last November. She said he explained how he was hired to kill certain people at a Runyon Street house to settle a feud between drug organizations. She said Smothers indicated he had help that day — but not from a teen.
“He said there was absolutely no connection between him and Mr. Sanford. He said (Sanford) had nothing to do with it. I don’t know what more I can say,” Borus testified.
But when she was finished, Wayne County Circuit Judge Brian Sullivan said he would disregard Borus’ testimony, partly because it was similar to what Smothers had already told police.
“I don’t view it as critical,” said the judge, who must decide whether to grant Sanford, now 18, a new trial.
McGinnis has been trying to persuade Smothers to appear in court and testify for Sanford. But he has declined, fearing he would be a marked man in prison if forced to name an accomplice in the Runyon Street slayings.
Smothers has given permission to allow his former attorney, Gabi Silver, to testify about their private conversations about Runyon Street. But the judge has blocked it, saying it would be unfair to prosecutors who wouldn’t be able to cross-examine Smothers.
The Wayne County prosecutor’s office won’t back away from Sanford’s convictions, although authorities acknowledge Smothers probably had a role in the fatal shootings. McGinnis believes a grant of immunity would force Smothers to testify, but prosecutors have declined to ask the judge to consider it.
That stance “only complicates matters,” Sullivan said.
Spokeswoman Maria Miller said an immunity request won’t be coming.
“Sanford confessed, pleaded guilty, gave a factual basis for the crime under oath, and the claim is that he gave a false plea. The issues raised by Sanford can be decided without giving Smothers immunity. … The fact of the matter is Smothers is free to testify at any time,” Miller said.
The judge told both sides to put final arguments in writing. A decision about Sanford’s case is not expected for weeks.
VOD ed.: The latest information is that the judge told attorneys to put their arguments in writing by the end of August. In ordering the written arguments, Sullivan said Davontae’s attorney, Kim McGinnis, should explain gunpowder residue police found on Sanford’s clothing and how he knew details of the scene inside the house. Sullivan has also said that prosecutors should address Smothers’ confession as well as the recovery of a .45-caliber pistol used in the killings. The written arguments are due at the end of August. There is no date set for Sullivan’s ruling.
The Michigan Daily reported in 2004 on Judge Sullivan’s response to a lawsuit filed by University of Michigan Law School professor Paul Reingold, on behalf of parolable lifers.
“Wayne County Circuit Judge Brian Sullivan said judges in the 1970s and 1980s believed a parolable life-sentence would offer more incentive for prisoner rehabilitation than a sentence for a set number of years. Since then, the Parole Board has changed its interpretation of a life sentence, Sullivan said.
“The Department of Corrections said if you say ‘life’ you mean ‘life,’ and that’s more serious,” he said. “The judges sentenced (prisoners before 1992) with an understanding that’s no longer correct,” he added.
Sullivan said the Parole Board should examine the specifics.
“Some people should be paroled, others should not,” he said. “If you kill someone and you don’t do well in prison, you shouldn’t be paroled. If you rehabilitate yourself, you should be reviewed for parole.”[
Davontae Sanford’s family is hoping for a similarly just decision on their child’s case from Judge Sullivan, who appeared to have compassionate sentiments in 2004.
It is hard to believe that he can ignore the testimony of the man who committed the murders for which Davontae cannot be paroled until 2046. And it is further hard to believe that Prosecutor Kym Worthy will not withdraw the charges against Davontae, since she has not filed ANY charges against Joseph Weekley and the other Detroit police officers who shot seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones to death in 2010.
The day after Davontae’s hearing in front of Judge Sullivan July 25, a 13-year-old child, Jimmell Cannon, was shot 8 times and nearly killed by Chicago police (see article below). The people must rise to save the very lives and freedom of Black CHILDREN across the U.S.!
We can begin by monitoring Detroit police by clicking on: http://tunein.com/radio/Detroit-Police-s134289/