Davontae Sanford pleads guilty to Arizona gunfire charge

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Davontae Sanford appears at a July 2016 news conference.

Davontae Sanford, who made national headlines after he was arrested at age 14 for murders a hit man later confessed to, has pleaded guilty in an Arizona court to recklessly firing a weapon, and will serve no prison time, his attorney said.

Sanford, 25,  spent nearly nine years in prison for a 2007 Detroit quadruple homicide he says he didn’t commit. His case received national media attention after hit man Vincent Smothers confessed to several killings, including those for which Sanford was convicted.

Sanford was released from prison 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. She said the case was tainted because former Detroit police commander James Tolbert lied about drawing a crime scene diagram.

After his release from prison, Sanford moved to the Phoenix area, where in March, he, his brother and a friend were arrested for firing an AR-15 pistol-grip weapon.

Sanford told The Detroit News he was merely firing into the desert; police said he, his brother and a third man "were shooting in the direction of the park ... (toward) children and young adults in the park," according to a Maricopa County Sheriff's report obtained by The News. "People were running for their lives.”

Sanford and his companions — brother Deshon Davis, 24, and friend, Albert Carter, 25 — were charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon/dangerous instrument and one count of endangerment.

On Monday, Sanford pleaded guilty in Maricopa County Superior Court to "reckless discharge of a firearm," his attorney Bill Goodman said.

"The agreement was, no time served," Goodman said. "He'll be on probation for a couple years.

"He didn't intend to hurt anyone," Goodman said. "He was acting out in a childish way — which is understandable, since he spent his adolescent years in prison. He hasn't had a chance to grow up, but he's getting there."

In January, Sanford was awarded $408,000 by the state, after a law was passed allowing wrongfully-convicted former inmates to petition the Court of Claims to recoup $50,000 for each year spent in prison.

After his award, Sanford moved to the Phoenix area. 

Following his arrest, Sanford was released on $25,000 bond. Days after the shooting incident, Sanford told The News: "I came out here to Arizona to start over; to get a better life."

Sanford also said he and his companions meant no harm by firing their weapons.

“I was just doing what everyone out here does: Going into the desert and shooting," he said. "The guns were all legally purchased. Would I do it all different if I could go back? Yeah, I would’ve went to the gun range instead. But it’s not like people out here don’t shoot in the desert all the time.”

Sanford is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 5.

As Sanford awaits sentencing, his federal civil lawsuit against the city, Tolbert and homicide detective Michael Russell is working its way through the court system, Goodman said.

"We're taking depositions, and we're scheduled to go to trial at the end of April," Goodman said.

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN