The Davontae Sanford saga leads one to wonder


DETROIT – Movie classic "The Shawshank Redemption" resonates because beyond the good overcoming evil platitudes, it takes on a larger theme. It attempts, in the most sanitary terms possible, how an Everyman [Andy Dufresne] can survive prison knowing prosecutors successfully convicted him on a crime he did not commit.

Particularly memorable is the scene [in light of Davontae’ Sanford’s case] where some veteran inmates take perverse pleasure in seeing new convicts cope with their new stark reality on night one in Super-max.

Most of them cry. It is a moving scene.

But real life overwhelms Stephen King’s original story for the movie.

Let’s consider night one in maximum security for Davontae Sanford. He was 14 years old, blind in one eye, and by all family accounts, a very small boy physically. He was learning disabled and illiterate.

The family lawyers tell me the Sanfords estimated Davontae’s emotional maturity at the time of his incarceration as that of a 9-year-old.

If it is even possible to begin to empathize, the tears shed that night must have been a river, the sobs gut wrenching and the thoughts going through his young mind electrified with an unimaginable terror.

His prison record shows early on he had disciplinary problems. Is it any wonder? He had to have been beset by many much older prisoners who viewed him with all manner of ill intent. It became so dangerous for him in both the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in Ionia and the Marquette Branch State Prison that he ended up forced into protective custody [solitary confinement] most of the time.

Yes, a boy with a 9-year-old’s limited view of the world, grew up largely alone and scared half to death.

It is with this awful reality he lived with and grew up through, as we now know, needlessly.

It is also important to note here, as long as we are talking about the unsanitized version, maximum security prisoners are not allowed to have physical contact with loved ones. So, when his mother came to visit him he would be handcuffed behind a screen. No hugs, no kisses, no human kindness allowed. Words are inadequate for such an overwhelmingly sad torment for adults, much less children.

Just as it is impossible to truly know the depths of Davontae’s jagged emotions it is also impossible to understand the heights of joy he experienced as he walked out of prison Wednesday with his lawyers and his brother, DeShon. Yes, he walked with his hands crossed in front of him, probably out of habit. But he smiled as he passed by the television cameras.

Watch: Davontae Sanford freed after 8 years in prison 

He had nothing to say. All he wanted to do was get home to the family he largely remembers through a child’s distant recollections.

So much has changed, so much is new, so many birthday parties and holidays missed, so much of the joy of living denied. Let’s hope he can in some small way return to what you and I might consider a normal life.

There are so many questions now, so many wrongs needing scrutiny.

How did this happen? How does a teenager walking around in his pajamas in the middle of the night, with no blood on him or gunshot residue on his hands, wind up confessing to the bloody shooting deaths of four people? How is it police are allowed to interrogate and grind down a 14-year-old learning disabled boy for two days without an attorney present?

How, when a cold blooded professional hit man confessed to the murders within weeks of Davontae’s [ill-gotten confession], did no one think to follow up? Is it possible a then rising star of the Detroit Police Department gave false testimony under oath? How does a defense attorney in a case like this not make a single motion in court? How does that same attorney not challenge the confession in court? Why does it take innocence project attorneys years of prodding to get the prosecutor to order a new Michigan State Police investigation? You get the drift.

Prosecutor Kym Worthy will hold a news conference Thursday, where she will have to defend her action, make that inaction, in this case. Her press release regarding the case you can see here below opens a can of worms not easily replaced. Yes hindsight is 20/20.

Still, as shoddy as this case was front to back, knowing Detroit and Wayne County’s financial problems and issues with the prosecutor’s office funding, one giant question remains: Is Davontae is the only one?

Worthy Press Release:  

In the spring of 2015, a motion for relief from judgment was filed by Davontae Sanford's attorneys, and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy determined that the case warranted an investigation by an independent law enforcement agency.  On May 4, 2015, Prosecutor Worthy requested that the Michigan State Police re-investigate the four homicides that occurred on Runyon Street in Detroit.

One year later, on May 20, 2016, the State Police submitted a report of their investigation.  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.  Recognizing the importance of that testimony, attorneys from the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office worked with Davontae Sanford's attorneys from Dykema Gossett to move to dismiss his case. 

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.


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