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The kid or the hit man: who killed 4 people?

The Michigan Court of Appeals today heard the case of a 14-year-old boy convicted of four murders.

The court is considering evidence that the now 20-year-old man may be innocent.

In 2007, four people were shot in a Detroit neighborhood.

Police picked up Davontae Sanford, a partially blind, developmentally-delayed 14-year-old.

They held him for questioning without a parent or attorney present.

Sanford confessed and was given decades in prison.

Then, a convicted hit man, Vincent Smothers, said he - not Sanford - committed those murders.

Laura Nirider is with the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth. The center has filed an amicus brief asking the Michigan court to release Sanford.

"His case as a matter of individual injustice is incredibly compelling,” says Nirider.   

She also believes the Sanford case gets at systemic issues, such as “the way kids are questioned by police. Under what circumstances do police interrogation tactics make it more likely a kid will confess to something he didn't do?"

Sanford's been in prison for 5 years.

The Wayne County Prosecutor’s office says it does not comment on pending cases.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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