Detroit — Davontae Sanford is to receive $408,000 from the state of Michigan after spending more than eight years in prison for murders he insists he didn’t commit — but his attorney hopes he’ll eventually have to return that money if he wins more from a federal lawsuit.
Sanford was 14 when he was arrested for a September 2007 quadruple homicide in a drug house on Detroit’s east side. He said he was tricked into a confession and guilty plea by police and his attorney, and was convicted as an adult of second-degree murder, beginning his prison term at age 15.
Sanford was released in June 2016 when Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy dropped the charges against him, although she has stopped short of saying Sanford is not guilty.
Although Worthy has insisted Sanford is not innocent, state officials disagree, as records show he is the latest person to qualify for state compensation for the wrongfully convicted. Under a 2016 law, someone who is wrongly convicted can qualify for $50,000 for every year spent in prison.
Sanford also has a lawsuit against the city pending in federal court. His attorney, Julie Hurwitz, said the trial is scheduled for January 2019.
“This award from the state is huge,” she said. “It allows him to at least not have to live in complete poverty until we get this wrapped up. That’s the value in this kind of statute, as limited as it is. It’s been very difficult for him, and it always is. The trauma he experienced is indescribable.”
If the federal lawsuit goes as Hurwitz hopes, Sanford will have to return the $408,000 to the state. Under the statute, if a jury in the federal case awards him more than the state’s payout, he must return the state money.
If he wins the federal suit, Sanford’s compensation will likely be several million dollars, Hurwitz said.
“We haven’t put a number on any demand, but with cases like this, as a framework, juries have been awarding about $1 million a year for each year of wrongful imprisonment,” she said. “Sometimes more, sometimes less.
“But we clearly believe he is entitled to at least a million dollars a year for every year he spent in prison, given the way he was railroaded and robbed of his ability to mature properly,” Hurwitz said. “There’s an outrage factor in these cases, and there are punitive damages that are recoverable.”
Hurwitz said things are looking up for her client, although she said life hasn’t been easy for him since he was released from prison.
“He’s struggling, but he’s dedicated to becoming a fully functioning adult in this society,” she said.
In August, the state paid out the first awards since the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act was passed.
Edward Carter of Ann Arbor, who spent more than 35 years in prison for a rape and robbery he didn’t commit, received $1.7 million; and Marwin McHenry who spent four years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of a shooting, got $175,753.
Associated Press contributed.
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