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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Tale of Two Murder Confessors

Davontae Sanford (left) &
Vincent Smothers
A few weeks ago, the New Yorker ran an article titled: Letter from Detroit: The Hit Man's Tale. The piece features a multiple shooting homicide from 2007, to which two different persons have separately confessed: a hit man, and a local kid, apparently trying to acquire some street credibility.

The self-proclaimed hit man is Vincent Smothers, doing 50-100 years at the Michigan Reformatory in Ionia, MI for a series of murders-for-hire to which he confessed, including the multiple shooting deaths of 4 victims on Runyon in Detroit.

His most infamous "hit", other than the Runyon job, was Rose Cobb, the wife of Detroit Police officer David Cobb, who ultimately hung himself in a jail cell.  Smothers confessed to more than a dozen murders, mostly drug dealers, but it was Ms. Cobb's murder that caused his conscience to come clean with law enforcement. Like Cobb, Smothers attempted suicide; unlike Cobb, he was unsuccessful.

The kid, Davontae Sanford, was sentenced to 37-90 years on 4-counts of second-degree murder for the same Runyon shootings.  Sanford was initially represented by the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice legend, Robert Slamenka, following his confession to the Runyon murders.

As defense attorneys, we here at the Law Blogger are still amazed why folks tender confessions to [serious] things that they did not do.  But when it comes to juveniles, they are often manipulated by their interrogators.

Well, in this case, the apparent consequence of Sanford's confession to the Runyon murders was that the DPD ignored the hit man's detailed confession to the same dirty deeds.  They had their man on the Runyon murders [Sanford], and "that-was-that."

According to Sanford's trial transcript, Wayne Circuit Judge Brian Sullivan pushed both sides to produce a plea agreement.  Sanford's plea, in hindsight, may have been rationale given Judge Sullivan's comments at his sentencing that, had he not pled, Sanford would have been sentenced to "the bullet", i.e. life in prison.

His appeal is currently pending with the Michigan Court of Appeals; an amicus brief has been filed by UM Law's Innocence Project, led by Law Professor David Moran.

For her part, Sanford's mother claims her son was pressured to tender the murder pleas by Slameka, his initial court-appointed attorney.  For his part, Smothers, the hit man, wishes Sanford well, thinks it is time for Sanford to go home, and personally longs for the day that, "I run across whoever will kill me."

Post Script:  Nearly a year since this post, the Court of Appeals has ruled that Smothers can testify at Sanford's trial court remand hearing.

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