'Sins of Detroit' true crime podcast focuses on wrongful convictions
Detroit — Darrell Siggers, who spent 34 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit, is among the exonerated Detroiters who appear in "Sins of Detroit," a new true crime podcast from The Detroit News.
"The hardest time any man can do is for a crime he didn't commit," Siggers says in "Motor City Injustice," the podcast's five-episode first season.
"(My) whole case, for the most part, was based on lies," said Siggers, 55, who was convicted in 1984 and exonerated in 2018. "(Detroit police) just wanted to close this case, and I just happened to be illiterate, black, uneducated, poor, and so, I'm the perfect guy to do this to — and that's what they did."
Siggers is among the record number of innocent Detroiters who have been released from prison in recent years — and The News spent hours interviewing many of them.
The inaugural season of "Sins of Detroit" focuses on the wrongfully-convicted Detroiters whose cases started with investigations by the Detroit Police Department, which was riddled with problems in the years after the 1967 riot, and leading up to the city entering into three federal consent judgments in 2003.
The issues continued for years after that, and the department struggled until 2013 to comply with federal mandates to clean up the "pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing in Detroit," according to Barbara McQuade, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.
The cases covered in the podcast's first season include the arrest of 14-year-old Davontae Sanford, who says he was tricked by police into confessing to a 2007 quadruple homicide, and coerced by his attorney into pleading guilty. Two weeks after Sanford's conviction, the case was thrown into chaos when a hit man confessed to the same killings.
Also covered are the widespread errors — and, according to innocence advocates, corruption — that caused the 2008 shuttering of the Detroit Police Crime Lab.
McQuade says the problems in the police department that were uncovered during a three-year federal investigation that started in 2000 included "unlawful detention of witnesses who had not committed any crimes at all; just locking up people who might have information about a suspect or a crime."
David Moran, director of the University of Michigan's Innocence Clinic, says the police's practice of rounding up witnesses and leaning on them until they told detectives what they wanted to hear "led to innumerable wrongful convictions."
"We will never know how many people were wrongfully convicted because witnesses were arrested and coerced into falsely implicating somebody," Moran said.
"Sins of Detroit" also features Justly Johnson and Kendrick Scott, two of the many Detroit exonerees who were incarcerated based on the testimony of shaky witnesses. Johnson and Scott were wrongfully convicted of killing 35-year-old Lisa Kindred in front of her three children the day before Mother's Day in 1999, and were imprisoned until their 2018 exoneration.
Johnson said the high-profile nature of the crime is why detectives wanted to quickly close the case.
"The way the Detroit Police was operating at that time ... they didn't care whether you did it or not," Johnson said. "Somebody was getting blamed; somebody was getting charged — somebody was going to prison."
Johnson lamented the years he lost sitting behind bars.
"I could've been anything," he said. "I could've had my own businesses — anything. They just put my future on pause. And it was sad that we had to go through that."