Criminal Justice

Judge Refuses Teen's Bid to Withdraw Guilty Plea to Quadruple Murder Hit Man Says He Committed

A Detroit judge refused Tuesday to allow a learning disabled teenager to withdraw his guilty plea to a quadruple murder that an admitted hit man has confessed to committing.

Wayne County Judge Brian Sullivan said the admitted hit man’s confession “does not automatically exonerate” Davontae Sanford from having any role in the killings, the Detroit Free Press and the Associated Press report.

Sanford, now 19, is serving a 37- to 90-year prison sentence for the murder of four people inside a Detroit drug den in 2007, when he was 14. His lawyers say Sanford, who has a low IQ and is blind in one eye, was only trying to please the police when he confessed to the killings.

Vincent Smothers, an admitted hit man who is serving a 52-year prison sentence for eight other murders, has twice told investigators he was hired by drug dealers to kill the four, but has refused to say so in court.

The judge said there was no evidence to show that Sanford’s confession was false. He also refused to bring Smothers into court, saying Smothers has twice asserted his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent when asked about the killings.

Sanford’s lawyer, Kim McGinnis, said the ruling would be appealed. “It’s a shame that an innocent kid has to say in prison longer,” she told the Associated Press. “It’s a shame that Judge Sullivan would not permit testimony from the true perpetrator who wants to exonerate an innocent person.”

Prosecutors, who have opposed Sanford’s attempts to withdraw his guilty plea, said they were pleased with the judge’s decision.

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