Second chance granted: In 1966, a robbery gone wrong; now, 'rational choices'

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

By the time he was 20, Demetrius Favors had already spent half of his life on the wrong side of the law.

He was on parole in 1966 with a pending armed robbery charge when he decided to raid the cash register of a Detroit shoe shop. After a chase through a back alley, he fatally shot the owner, Joe Dentz. 

Demetrius Favors

Favors, who served more than 50 years of a life sentence for the crime, did not respond to The News' multiple requests for an interview. But at a May 2018 commutation hearing, he testified he was no longer a threat to society.

He regretted committing the crime, he said, and had remorse for taking Dentz’s life.

“That weighs heavy on me,” said Favors, now 73. “I just want to get a second chance to show that I can be productive with what little years I got left.”

►Read our entire special report: Second chance granted

State records show Favors was released Feb. 21. He's reporting for parole in Texas, where he resides with family.

Favors became known to the criminal justice system at age 11. His juvenile record listed numerous larcenies and assaults, according to a letter of opposition from the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.

Favors said he'd turned up near Harper and Van Dyke on Nov. 29, 1966, to return a leather jacket with a gun in the pocket that he'd accidentally picked up during a party.

While he waited, he noticed an open and unattended cash register through the front window of a shoe store and thought about stealing its contents, he testified during the hearing.

He stepped inside, took the money and then Dentz appeared. To cover up his actions, he asked to try on a shoe, he said during the hearing in front of a representative of the state's parole board. 

Then, he pulled out the gun and told Dentz “hold it” and “I ain’t going to hurt you." 

Favors said he directed Dentz to the back of the shop to let him out a door that led into a back alley. He told him not to follow.

Favors ran, but Dentz followed and caught up.

“I was stunned. I pulled the gun,” Favors said. “I said 'leave. What’s wrong with you? Go.'"

Favors said Dentz wasn’t scared, came closer and "grabbed the gun and pulled." The gun fired, striking Dentz, he said. 

"He looked at me, and he sat down and was leaning up against a car," he said.

Favors was picked up by police the next day and identified in a lineup as the suspect in the fatal shooting. 

"I made bad choices back then," he said. "Now I make rational, thinking choices."

The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, in a five-page letter to the state’s parole and commutation board, wrote it “strongly" objected to commuting Favors' sentence.

The April 2018 letter cited past requests for release from Favors that had been denied, saying insufficient time had passed to warrant any change in his status. He was reviewed for release 10 times between 1977 and 2014, the prosecutor’s office noted, and had been denied previously by then-Gov. Rick Snyder. 

“He is not ready to be released as he has not accepted that what he has done was criminal," the letter notes. "He took a life without just cause.”

A self-described loner as a child, Favors said he dropped out of school in ninth grade.

He spent time working at Chrysler as a boiler operator prior to the crime. In the summer and fall of 1966, he said he was “running with some bad guys, doing some dumb stuff."

On Sept. 22, 1966 — two months before the murder — he was arrested for armed robbery. He’d acted as the driver, waiting in an alley, while several others armed with knives robbed a grocery store.

Other prior offenses include breaking out about 30 windows at a school at age 12, stealing bicycles when he was 13, and stealing a car.

He also was accused of stealing a purse, striking his victim with his fist in the cheek and knocking her down. She was seven and a half months pregnant. The purse had $1.70 in it, according to testimony provided in the hearing transcripts. 

In a May 15, 2018, letter, Wayne County Circuit Judge James Chylinski wrote that because of the “heinous crime committed” and his past juvenile records, there was a “very slim likelihood” that Favors could “remain crime free.”

But Favors touted a turnaround while in prison. He earned a bachelor's degree in psychology and took part in counseling and self-help programs. He also volunteered, joining the Jaycees and created a group “Juveniles Not Knowing the Truth.”

“I try to help other people when I can. I said 'look at me. Look at the situation I’m in,'" he said during the commutation hearing. “This is not a joke. You can die here in prison.”

Barbara Bradley, Favors' sister, also spoke at the hearing, saying her brother is “not a threat to society” and “desperate for his freedom.”

“There’s no way that he could actually fail in what we’ve set up for him," she said. "I know he’s going to do well.”