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Freed Davontae Sanford knows he faces a tough road, "but the hard part is over"

Davontae Sanford with family and supporters after his release.
Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio
Davontae Sanford with family and supporters after his release.

A young Detroit man who spent nine years in prison for crimes he didn’t commit says he’s ready to make a new life for himself.

Davontae Sanford was just 14 when he confessed to four murders.

But a hit man confessed to the same crimes just a year later. Advocates for the wrongfully incarcerated have fought to free him ever since.

This week, following a Michigan State Police re-investigation of the case, a judge vacated Sanford’s convictions and freed him.

His thrilled family and defense team welcomed him home Wednesday. But they’re also aware that after growing up behind bars, Sanford faces a tough road ahead.

Davontae “needs the prayer,” said his mother, Taminko Sanford. “His whole childhood life has been taken away from him. He missed prom, junior high school, high school, everything.”

Sanford says he eventually wants to advocate for other wrongfully incarcerated people, and juvenile justice reform. But for now, he wants to take care of some things he missed out on, like getting his driver’s license.

“I know it’s going to take some time for me to get back used to things, and normalize,” he said. “But the hard part is over, you know? The hardest part was getting me out of prison. So I think I’m ready for it.”

Sanford said that while he was locked up, he drew strength from the many letters he received from people all over the world who believed he would eventually be freed.

“If you know you’re in prison for something you didn’t do … don’t roll over,” he said. “Don’t give in, don’t let them break you.”

Valerie Newman, one of Sanford’s lawyers, has been blunt about the challenges Sanford will face re-entering society as an adult. But she thinks he’s on the right path already.

“I can testify to his transformation, and how hard he worked to stay positive, and stay in a good place, and be the thoughtful, considerate young man that he is today,” Newman said.

“There are always choices. And he could have chosen to let prison do him, instead of him doing time. And he deserves enormous, enormous credit.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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