Sanford’s mom worries about how he’ll adjust

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Taminko Sanford-Tilmon has worked tirelessly for eight years to get her son released from prison after what law enforcement officials now admit was a wrongful murder conviction.

But with Davontae Sanford scheduled to come home Wednesday afternoon, she said her work is just beginning.

“I’m excited, and I’m nervous for the society he’s coming home to,” Sanford-Tilmon told The Detroit News Wednesday morning. Her son was released just after 3 p.m. from the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in Ionia.

“It’s not going to be easy. Nothing will be the same for him. He doesn’t even know how to drive; I guess I’ll have to be his chauffeur until he learns.”

Sanford was 14 when he was arrested hours after the Sept. 17, 2007, quadruple homicide at a drug house on Runyon, two blocks from his home. He was convicted and sent to prison the following year.

On Tuesday, the judge who presided over Sanford’s 2008 trial vacated his sentence and prosecutors said they would not pursue further charges.

Sanford-Tilmon said she was astonished when she got the news she’s waited so long to hear.

“It actually doesn’t seem real. Maybe when I can embrace him like a mother does her child, it’ll seem more real.”

Wayne Circuit Judge Brian Sullivan on Tuesday vacated Sanford’s 37-90 year sentence, and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced she would file a motion to dismiss all charges against Sanford and not retry him. Worthy said she would further discuss her decision at a Thursday news conference.

Tuesday’s decision came three weeks after Michigan State Police turned over the results of an 11-month investigation of the case, which, sources told The Detroit News, found Smothers and his alleged partner in crime Ernest Davis — not Sanford — were responsible for the four deaths.

Sanford-Tilmon said despite her ordeal, she’s trying to maintain trust in the system.

“I know all cops aren’t bad,” she said. “But do I say the system is fair?” She paused. “Mmmm, I’m not going to say yes.”

The decision to vacate Sanford’s sentence came after several failed appeals, and Sanford-Tilmon said there were tough times for her and her family as they worked to free her son.

“There were days where I said, ‘what am I fighting for?’ You’d go to court and when it was over you seemed 15 feet further from where you were before.

“This has humbled me. I’ve had challenges in my life ... there’s not enough words. I’ve enjoyed family more because here he was locked up 23 hours a day. Now, I appreciate the little things.

“I’ve tried to keep him connected to the outside world. I’d ask him, ‘did you watch the news? Did you read the newspaper?’ When you’re in prison, you become mentally locked up. Now, we’ve got to start from scratch. We’ve got to make a new beginning.”

Sanford-Tilmon said when her son returns home, she and the rest of his family will do their best to make life easier for him.

“I’m just going to be the mother I need to be, and take it day by day. He’s been through so much mentally. I tell my family, he’s not going to be the Davontae you left. He’s another Davontae.”

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN