Michigan Police Chief Lied About Crucial Drawing in Davontae Sanford Trial
Michigan Police Chief Lied About Crucial Drawing in Davontae Sanford Trial

A former Michigan State police chief fabricated a crucial piece of evidence during the 2007 murder trial of then-14-year-old, Davonte Sanford.

Sanford, now 23, was released on June 8 after spending the last 9 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. Sanford had been sentenced to at least 38 years in prison for the 2007 slayings of four people.

The fabricated evidence was a drawing of the crime scene, in which Michigan State Deputy Police Chief James Tolbert, in 2010, lied under oath and said Sanford had drawn the picture, indicating he had full knowledge of the scene.

“Mr. Sanford being able to draw the sketch would demonstrate that all of the information came from Mr. Sanford’s recollection of his participation in the crime,” said Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy in a powerpoint presentation she showed at a press conference. 

A sergeant from the department also testified that the initial sketch was written and signed by Sanford.

(Wayne County Prosecutor's Office)
(Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office)

But in 2015, Michigan State Police officials interviewed Tolbert during a reinvestigation of the case—this time, Tolbert confessing to drawing it and passing it off as Sanford’s.

(Wayne County Prosecutor's Office)
(Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office)

“When evidence undermining a conviction is discovered and a full investigation is completed, we do act,” Worthy said. “On receipt of the MSP report regarding the Runyon St. murders, I directed that the evidence of Tolbert’s statement be shared with Mr. Sanford’s attorneys.”

Worthy said: “New information has undermined Sanford’s confession and plea, and as a result, we agreed to vacate his convictions and dismiss the case.”

Sanford was officially released on June 8, a day after all charges against him were dropped. 

The family of Davontae Sanford, from left, sister LaMaze Sanford, 15, pastor W.J. Rideout III, mother Taminko Sanford-Tilmon, sister Deshonda Davis, 18, and nephew, bottom, Omari Sanford, 5, react when they see Davontae get out of the car, as Davontae Sanford is reunited with his family after being released from prison, Wednesday, June 8, 2016, at his mother's home in Detroit. (Robin Buckson/The Detroit News via AP)
The family of Davontae Sanford, from left, sister LaMaze Sanford, 15, pastor W.J. Rideout III, mother Taminko Sanford-Tilmon, sister Deshonda Davis, 18, and nephew, bottom, Omari Sanford, 5, react when they see Davontae get out of the car, as Davontae Sanford is reunited with his family after being released from prison, June 8, 2016, at his mother’s home in Detroit. (Robin Buckson/The Detroit News via AP)

Davontae Sanford is reunited with his mother, Taminko Sanford-Tilmon at their home in Detroit on Wednesday, June 8, 2016 after being released from prisont. (Robin Buckson/The Detroit News via AP)
Davontae Sanford is reunited with his mother, Taminko Sanford-Tilmon, at their home in Detroit on June 8, 2016, after being released from prison. (Robin Buckson/The Detroit News via AP)

Just two weeks after Sanford pleaded guilty and was sentenced, Vincent Smothers, a self-proclaimed professional hitman, admitted to committing the murders, and provided evidence from the crime scene—evidence that Sanford had previously gotten wrong during his testimonies.

This Aug. 3, 2013 file photo provided by the Michigan Department of Corrections shows imprisoned hit man Vincent Smothers. (Michigan Department of Corrections via AP, File)
This Aug. 3, 2013, file photo provided by the Michigan Department of Corrections shows imprisoned hitman Vincent Smothers. (Michigan Department of Corrections via AP, File)

It is believed Sanford, being young and naive, accepted his guilty plea at the time after suspected coercion from the Detroit Police Department, who led the teen to believe if he pleaded guilty he would be set free.

There was a warrant request submitted by the Michigan State Police for James Tolbert as a result of the April 2015 findings—it is currently under review.

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