Hit man Smothers describes killing drug dealer in ’04

George Hunter
The Detroit News

In a calm, measured voice, confessed hit man Vincent Smothers sat in a Wayne County courtroom Monday and described how he gunned down a drug dealer who was sitting in a traffic jam more than 13 years ago — a murder for which another man was convicted.

Smothers, who is in prison after confessing to eight murders — along with a 2007 quadruple homicide that was blamed on 14-year-old Davontae Sanford — said Monday he also killed Jamal Segars on Detroit’s east side on Sept. 5, 2004.

Thelonious Searcy, 38, was convicted in 2005 of first-degree murder in connection with Segars’ death. But Smothers wrote three affidavits in 2015 and 2016 saying he, not Searcy, had killed Segars.

Wayne County prosecutors have rejected Smothers’ claim, insisting Searcy is responsible for Segars’ murder.

During a hearing Monday before Chief Wayne Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny, Smothers, dressed in an olive jump suit with his hands cuffed in front of him, described how he killed Segars, whom Smothers said was a drug dealer he knew by his street name of “Q.”

“Can you tell me who murdered Mr. Segars?” defense attorney Michael Dezsi asked.

“I did,” Smothers said. “I was attempting to rob him, and that didn’t go as planned. He was a drug dealer. Pretty much everybody knows all the drug dealers in the city.”

As Smothers testified, Searcy sat in the courtroom rubbing his chin, clad in a similar olive prison jumpsuit. The courtroom was packed with Searcy’s family and other supporters, although they declined to comment following Monday’s hearing.

The Segars killing happened near Coleman A. Young Municipal Airport, where the “Black Party,” a fundraiser inside the airport for the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund, was held. Smothers said the party was attended by several drug dealers.

“I was intending to go to the party, and (Segars) happened by,” Smothers said. “That was where you could bump into all the drug dealers that night. He just happened to be there.”

Smothers said he was in a car with a man named Jeffery Daniels – another drug dealer who was killed a few weeks later for “attempting to sell fake drugs” – when he spotted Segars’ silver Chevrolet Corvette.

Smothers said he saw his opportunity to rob Segars as he sat in congested traffic on Conner Street outside the airport. He said Daniels quickly parked outside a nearby Mobil gas station and then the pair walked toward Segars’ car. Smothers clutched a .40 caliber handgun; Daniels was armed with “either a .40 or .45,” Smothers said.

Smothers said he spotted another man with Segars inside the targeted Corvette. “I don’t know what his name was; it was just another black individual,” Smothers said.

“Myself and Jeff were walking up to the back of the car,” Smothers said. “I noticed he saw us in his rearview mirror. Before he could do anything, I shot through the back window. Then I walked up to the driver’s door and fired about eight shots.

“(Segars) had some money in his hand, I grabbed that,” Smothers said, adding that his partner fired one shot into the air before they fled.

As they ran back to their car at the Mobil station, Smothers said he saw an unmarked police car pull up.

“It was attempting to turn on the street I was parked on, and it ended up crashing into a burgundy car,” Smothers said. He said there was a shootout.

“A police officer got out and I believe he was shooting at Jeff,” he said. “I’m not sure which shots were from whom, but several shots were fired.”

Smothers said neither he nor his partner were shot, and that they managed to escape, driving past the Detroit Police Eastern District headquarters before stopping at a liquor store. “I gave (Daniels) my handgun and we went our separate ways,” he said.

Wayne County prosecutors said last year in a written response to a motion to dismiss Searcy’s conviction that Smothers wasn’t credible in his claim that he had killed Segars.

During Searcy’s original trial, prosecutors said Searcy mistook Segars for a man with whom he’d been feuding, DeAnthony Witcher, who drove a Corvette similar to Segars’ car. Witcher testified that in 2003 he won $600 from Searcy in a crap game, and that afterward Searcy told him, “I got to kill you.”

After Segars’ death, Smothers committed several more murders, including killing Rose Cobb, wife of Detroit police Sgt. David Cobb, who later committed suicide by hanging himself in a Sterling Heights park.

On Sept. 17, 2007, four people were killed in a drug house on Runyon Street on Detroit’s east side. Sanford, then 14, was arrested, and confessed to the crime, although he later insisted he was tricked into confessing and pleading guilty to second-degree murder.

A few weeks after Sanford went to prison, Smothers was arrested in his Shelby Township home and confessed to several homicides, for which he was convicted. Although he also confessed to the Runyon Street killings, he was never charged.

Smothers cut a plea deal to admit to second-degree murder, and was sentenced to 50 to 100 years in prison.

Smothers said after he’d been incarcerated for a few years, he heard Searcy — whom he knew only by his street name, “Skinny Man” — had been convicted of killing Segars.

In court Monday, Dezsi played an 18-minute telephone recording from prison between Smothers and private investigator and former Detroit television reporter Scott Lewis, who was hired by Searcy’s grandmother to look into the case.

When Lewis asked on the recording why Smothers admitted to killing Segars, the hit man said: “I’m guessing you’re familiar with my reputation. At the time when this happened, I was free; there was no reason to (confess to it). Since I’ve been locked up, I’ve had to hear about this individual …. who was locked up for it.

“ ... prison is extremely difficult even when you’re guilty; it has to be more so when you’re not,” Smothers said, echoing statements he’d made after he found out Sanford was convicted for the four homicides on Runyon Street.

Sanford was released from prison in June 2016 after Michigan State Police filed a report with the prosecutor’s office saying Smothers, his alleged partner Ernest Davis and Leroy Payne, whom police said ordered the hit, were responsible for the four slayings. Neither Davis nor Payne has been charged in connection with the crime.

State police also found that former Detroit police commander and Flint police chief James Tolbert lied on the witness stand when he said Sanford had drawn a crime scene map. Tolbert told state police he had drawn the map, which contradicted his earlier testimony. Tolbert was not charged because the statute of limitations for perjury had expired.

State police initiated their investigation into the Runyon murders at the behest of Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, who has maintained Sanford’s guilt.

During their investigation, state detectives asked Smothers about his affidavits in which he’d confessed to the Segars murder, but he recanted them.

On Monday, Smothers said he recanted his statements because the detectives told him Sanford’s release from prison would be delayed if an investigation into the Segars murder was launched.

Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Thomas Chambers asked Smothers if anyone gave him money for his testimony, or if he would get anything out of it.

“Would you agree you have nothing to lose by confessing to this murder?” Chambers asked.

“No, I wouldn’t say that,” Smothers said. “Fifty years (his minimum prison sentence) is not life.”

“So you expect to be paroled?” Chambers asked.

“Yes,” Smothers said. Smothers is eligible for parole in 2060.

Lewis also testified Monday. He said he was paid $400 for taking the case, far below the normal $200 per hour he charges.

“I know she (Searcy’s grandmother) is on a fixed income, and this is an important case,” Lewis said.

Testimony is expected to continue Thursday. Among those scheduled to take the witness stand: One of the state police investigators who interviewed Smothers during the Sanford investigation; and Marzell Black, who was convicted with Smothers in connection with Rose Cobb’s murder.

Smothers said Monday he told Black that he, not Searcy, had killed Segars.

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN