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Leroy Payne, a state police murder suspect, has “left town,” his lawyer says

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Leroy Payne has apparently gotten out of Dodge.

The man State Police have identified as a suspect in a quadruple murder for which Davontae Sanford wrongfully spent eight years in prison – has “left town,” according to his lawyer.

“I believe he was moving,” says Mark Magidson, Payne’s attorney, possibly somewhere “down south.”

Last month, Michigan State Police told Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy its investigation suggested Payne allegedly hired hit man Vincent Smothers to carry out the killings in Detroit in 2007.

But then the prosecutor’s office said it would be returning the three homicide-related warrants the state police requested for “further investigation.”

The prosecutor’s office won’t confirm that one of the requested warrants is for Payne.

Meanwhile, the state police’s other two suspects – Vincent Smothers and Ernest “Nemo” Davis – are already in prison for unrelated crimes.  

State police tried to interview Payne, who allegedly contracted Runyon Street hit

As part of their year-long investigation into who really killed four people at a home on Runyon Street late one night in 2007, police were trying to talk with Payne about his alleged involvement.

Evidence police gathered suggests Payne allegedly hired Smothers to commit several murders.

Credit C/O of Wayne County
The house on Runyon Street, where Vincent Smothers says he and alleged accomplice Ernest Davis gunned down four people in 2007

“Smothers explained that the Runyon Street homicides were one of several contract killings that were contracted by Leroy Payne,” the state police report says. That report also says Smothers and Payne were arrested together on a weapons charge when they were driving to Chicago in 2007.

Smothers, meanwhile, details his relationship with Payne at length in a 2015 affidavit.

“By June of 2007, I had committed five hits at Leroy’s request,” Smothers says in his affidavit, “which resulted in seven murders. I never asked too much about why these people were being murdered. I stayed out of Lano [an alleged drug dealer, Delano Thomas, who is now deceased] and Leroy’s drug business and just focused on completing my assigned hits.”

Smothers says Payne hired him that summer to murder Mike Robinson, a reported drug dealer in Detroit, who lived on Runyon Street. Smothers says he recruited his old friend, Ernest “Nemo” Davis, to help him carry out the hit, which resulted in the death of Robinson – the intended target – and three other people who were also in the house.

Credit C/O of MDOC
Vincent Smothers, a convicted hit man, who says Leroy Payne hired him to commit numerous murders in 2006 and 2007

But in April 2016, state police investigators got a letter from Leroy Payne’s lawyer, saying his client would be declining “the invitation to talk with you.”

“If any warrant or other court order is obtained, please advise me and I will arrange for his appearance,” attorney Mark Magidson wrote.

But if one of the warrants police requested from the Wayne County Prosecutor's office in May is indeed for Payne, it’s unclear how long they may have to wait, since the prosecutor’s office is now asking for “further investigation.”

Payne’s alleged involvement is a “fairy tale,” attorney says

Attorney Mark Magidson tells Michigan Radio he advised Payne, his client, not to talk with the state police.

“As a default, when police want to talk, there’s nothing to be gained,” he says. “Police always know more than they let on, and they’re generally looking for defendants to make incriminatory statements.”

But Magidson says Payne is a “law-abiding citizen” who wouldn’t know anything about the Runyon Street killings, and any allegations Vincent Smothers made about his client are merely “a nice novel, a fairy tale.”

Asking Payne about the Runyon Street homicides would be like “asking John Smith” about the crime, Magidson said.

But when asked about the state police report that says Payne and Smothers were arrested together on weapons charges in 2007 when they were driving to Chicago, Magidson says: “Yeah, [Smothers] knows Mr. Payne, obviously … I believe [Payne] pled down to a misdemeanor in that case.”

But Magidson says he couldn’t recall exactly when his client first told him he was leaving Detroit – maybe it was five or six months ago, he says, or maybe it was more recent than that – nor where he was going.

“He said he was leaving town, to get away from Detroit.”

A spokesperson for the Michigan State Police doesn't seem phased. 

"It's not uncommon to deal with suspects that are out of state, and if it comes to that, we'll deal with it," says public affairs officer Shanon Banner, adding that it's too soon to speculate and at this point, they're still not sure which warrant requests will be returned to them. She says they have not received any yet from Worthy's office.

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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