Shoe test adds strange twist to Detroit man's wrongful conviction

By Ed White
Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) - Blood on the shoe of a 14-year-old Detroit boy who was convicted but subsequently cleared of four murders reveals DNA from one of the victims, state police said after a high-tech analysis by a private company.

State police cautioned, however, that it's "preliminary information." The company, Cybergenetics, also said the "preliminary unconfirmed results" shouldn't be used for civil or criminal justice purposes until more work is done.

But the disclosure adds an odd curve to the saga of Davontae Sanford, who was 14 in 2007 when he was charged with four fatal shootings in his Detroit neighborhood. He pleaded guilty at age 15, although later insisted he was innocent and only made a deal because he felt desperate and poorly represented by his lawyer.

Sanford, now 27, was released from prison in 2016 after prosecutors said the case was spoiled by police misconduct.

Separately, a professional hit man said he committed the Runyon Street killings, not Sanford. Vincent Smothers gave a detailed account to investigators while Sanford was behind bars. Smothers is in prison for eight killings but hasn't been charged in the Runyon homicides.

The state of Michigan paid $408,000 to Sanford for a wrongful conviction. He's now suing Detroit police in federal court, alleging his rights were violated during the investigation.

The recent shoe analysis was revealed in court filings by attorneys who are defending police in the lawsuit. The Wayne County prosecutor's office wasn't aware that the shoes were in police custody and signed off on the exams, spokeswoman Maria Miller said.

A member of Sanford's legal team, Emma Freudenberger, has asked U.S. District Judge David Lawson to take the filing off the public record. She accused the opposing lawyers of trying to "harass" Sanford and "taint the jury pool with facially incompetent and unsupported prejudicial statements."

"There is no report, there are no official results and experts have raised serious concerns about the reliability of TrueAllele's techniques," Freudenberger said last Friday, referring to the method. "More important, we know from all the other evidence in the case that our client is innocent, so we fully expect that this will have no impact on the case."

Miller declined to comment on the significance of the results so far.

"It would be premature to speculate. ... When there's new information or evidence discovered in a case we have an obligation to pursue it," Miller said.

Published: Tue, Jan 14, 2020