COMMENTARY: "How Wayne County failed Davontae Sanford, and us," by David Moran and Megan Crane," published by The Detroit News on August 9, 2016. (David Moran is the director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School. Megan Crane is the co-director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.)
GIST: A few weeks ago, our client Davontae Sanford was exonerated after spending nearly nine years behind bars for a quadruple murder that he did not commit. Davontae was 14 when he was arrested; he is now 23. We are thrilled that Davontae is finally free, but we cannot help be angry that Davontae was convicted and that it took eight years to free him after the real perpetrators were identified. When Detroit police went to Runyon Street in 2007 to investigate the murders, the lead detective somehow decided that one of the curious onlookers, a 5’5” 14-year-old kid wearing pajamas, was involved. After two overnight interrogations, without a parent or guardian present, the detective got Davontae to confess. That confession was obviously false. Davontae named three other kids who carried out the killings with him, but the others were cleared within days. The guns Davontae said the kids used didn’t match up with the bullets and casings at the scene. Davontae said the four planned the killings at a Coney Island, but that location was closed. No matter that the confession was patently false — the police and prosecution charged ahead. Just 16 days after Davontae went to prison, the police arrested hitman Vincent Smothers on an unrelated crime. Smothers confessed on camera to 12 contract killings, including the four on Runyon Street. Unlike Davontae, Smothers got all of the details right. Smothers named his one accomplice and he revealed where one of the guns was hidden, and that gun matched the bullets and casings at the scene. He also admitted that he had used the second gun in other hits, and ballistics testing confirmed it: Smothers was telling the truth. How did authorities respond? First, they buried it. Davontae’s lawyers did not learn about Smothers’ confession for nearly a year until a reporter, not the prosecutor or police, told them. Second, prosecutors offered a sweet deal to Smothers, letting him plead to second-degree murder for the other hits, but not charging him with Runyon Street. And they let Smothers’ accomplice remain free until predictably, he shot a security guard at Cutter’s Bar & Grill in 2012. The Wayne County prosecutor refused for eight years after Smothers confessed and led police to the gun to admit that a mistake had been made. After we filed a motion for new trial in 2015, the Michigan State Police launched a wholesale reinvestigation. Davontae is free today because the MSP delivered a massive report to the prosecutor in May confirming that Davontae is innocent. Davontae’s case should spur the Michigan Supreme Court to follow other states in adopting an ABA ethical rule requiring prosecutors to disclose exculpatory evidence that surfaces after a conviction. And it should be a wake-up call to all law enforcement that it’s better to admit a mistake than to leave real killers at large. We need a system that values truth and public safety over protecting convictions."
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The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at:
Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: http://smithforensic.blogspot.
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