Wayne County’s Prosecutor said Thursday a former Detroit Police deputy chief’s statement during a state police investigation which refuted earlier testimony was the reason for dropping murder charges against the teen convicted of the crimes.
At a press conference at her offices Thursday, Kym Worthy said state police last month submitted a warrant request for perjury against James Tolbert, who later left the Detroit Police Department to become Flint’s police chief.
Tolbert declined to comment.
Tolbert told state police investigators in September 2015 he’d drawn a sketch of the crime scene on Runyon Street, where four people were killed. That contradicts earlier testimony during an appeal that Sanford had drawn the crime scene sketch. The discrepancy caused Worthy to drop charges against Sanford, she said.
“That undermined his prior testimony under oath,” Worthy said, adding the drawing “was a major building block in our case. Our building block in this case was now in question.
“When evidence undermining a conviction is discovered ... we act. And we acted,” she said.
Worthy also said state police asked for murder charges against hit man Vincent Smothers, who confessed to the quadruple homicide for which Sanford was convicted. State police also submitted warrant requests for two other people; sources told The Detroit News one of them was Smothers’ alleged partner Ernest Davis.
All the warrant requests are under review, Worthy said.
Wayne Circuit Judge Brian Sullivan, who presided over Sanford’s trial, vacated Sanford’s 37-90-year sentence for the 2007 killings in a drug house on Detroit’s east side.
Sanford was 14 when he was arrested for the 2007 slayings. He was freed from Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in Ionia Wednesday afternoon after serving eight years of a 37-90-year sentence for the murders.
When asked whether the new information means Sanford had nothing to do with the killings, Worthy said: “My personal feelings have nothing to do with this case.”
Worthy insisted her office only had the evidence brought by police and Sanford’s confession and guilty plea to go by when charging him with the crimes.
Part of that evidence, Worthy said, was the fact that a tracking dog led police “to Sanford’s house at 19770 Beland.”
However, Sanford didn’t live at the address Worthy indicated; he lived down the street at 19700 Beland. When the discrepency, and the fact that police said the dog’s trail went cold, suggesting whomever was being tracked left in a vehicle, Worthy said she stood by her statement.
Worthy pointed out that Smothers, who has submitted affidavits insisting Sanford had nothing to do with the killings, refused to testify. Smothers said the first time he refused was because he didn’t want to be labeled a snitch in prison; however, he later tried to testify. In one instance, Sullivan didn’t allow him to take the stand.
After Smothers was arrested in April 2008, he confessed to 12 murders-for-hire, including the Runyon killings. When Worthy was asked Thursday why she chose to believe Smothers for the other eight killings, but never charged him with the Runyon case, she said she “resented” the question.
Worthy criticized media coverage of the case, saying news reports unfairly indicated she was stonewalling efforts to exonerate Sanford.
“I don’t know what we could’ve done differently,” she said. “I can’t be a Monday morning quarterback. We had good reason to charge. It seems to be glossed over ... that there was a guilty plea.”
Bill Proctor, a former Detroit television reporter and founder of Proving Innocence, an advocacy group for the wrongly convicted, criticized statements Worthy made during her press conference. He was one of the first to report discrepancies in the Sanford case and has been pushing for Sanford’s release.
“Kym Worthy today used a lot of smoke and fog to hide behind the truth when it comes to her responsibly in getting Davontae Sanford released long before this week,” said Proctor, who monitored a live feed of the press briefing. “The truth is that she knew within a matter of months, from the statements that Vincent Smothers, a hit man she was ready to believe committed eight murders, was also responsible for the Runyon Street assassinations.”