Murder convictions overturned in case of Michigan man who confessed when 14

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Davontae Sanford to be released from prison

June 7 (Reuters) - A Michigan court threw out the convictions and sentence of a man who was 14 when he pleaded guilty to a 2007 quadruple homicide in Detroit that a professional hit man later confessed to committing, prosecutors and defense attorneys said on Tuesday.

Davontae Sanford's sentence of up to 90 years was vacated by Wayne County Judge Brian Sullivan, according to statements from the Dykema Gossett law firm, which handled Sanford's appeal, and the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, which also moved to overturn the conviction after a reinvestigation. He will be released from prison on Wednesday.

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After being arrested in 2007, Sanford gave an inaccurate confession to the killings and pleaded guilty to four counts of second-degree homicide on the advice of an attorney now suspended from the practice of law, the Dykema Gossett statement said.

"In April 2008, two weeks after Sanford's sentencing, a professional hit man, Vincent Smothers, confessed to the Runyon Street killings and eight additional murders," the statement from the law firm said.

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Murder convictions overturned in case of Michigan man who confessed when 14
CORRECTS YEAR OF WHEN PHOTO WAS TAKEN TO 2007 INSTEAD OF 2017 - This Aug. 7, 2007, photo provided by the Michigan Department of Corrections shows Davontae Sanford. A judge on Tuesday, June 7, 2016, ordered the release of Sanford who is in prison after pleading guilty to killing four people at age 14, a crime for which a professional hit man later took responsibility. (Michigan Department of Corrections via AP)
In this June 30, 2010 photo, Davontae Sanford sits in court as attorneys present their findings in Detroit. Sanford was just 14 when he told police he killed four people in a drug den. He was sentenced to at least 38 years in prison for the 2007 slayings, which police say were planned as a robbery but now insists his confession was a lie. A veteran homicide investigator agrees that the young man's statements were unreliable. And his attorney is seeking help from an unlikely ally: A hit man convicted in no fewer than eight other murders. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
David Moran, right, of the Innocence Clinic at University of Michigan law school and Megan Crane, left, of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth at Northwestern University law school, speak to reporters Wednesday, April 15, 2015, outside the Wayne County courthouse in Detroit. They are asking a judge to throw out the murder convictions of Davontae Sanford, a young man who pleaded guilty in 2008 at age 15. A hit man, Vincent Smothers, has signed an affidavit taking responsibility for the murders. (AP Photo/Ed White)
In this photo provided by the Michigan Department of Corrections is Davontae Sanford, who pleaded guilty at 15 to killing four people at a Detroit drug house. Prosecutors have turned to Michigan State Police for help as two law schools seek to overturn the conviction of Sanford. (Michigan Department of Corrections via AP)
FILE - In this July 23, 2010 file photo is Vincent Smothers in a Detroit courtroom. In a decision released Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, an appeals court ruled that Smothers could give evidence in the case of Davontae Sanford, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder after the September 2007 shootings of five people at a Detroit drug house, all but one of whom died. Sanford, who has a learning disability and one eye, was 14 years old at the time. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)
FILE - This Aug. 3, 2013 file photo provided by the Michigan Department of Corrections shows imprisoned hit man Vincent Smothers. A judge ordered the release of Davontae Sanford on Tuesday, June 7, 2016. Sanford is in prison after pleading guilty to killing four people at age 14, a crime for which Smothers later took responsibility. The Wayne County prosecutor's office agreed Sanford's second-degree murder conviction should be vacated after state police took another look at the case. (Michigan Department of Corrections via AP, File)
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More than 1,810 exonerations have been recorded in the United States since 1989, for murder and other crimes, and the pace has increased steadily over the years to about three a week, according to the National Registry of Exonerations run by the University of Michigan Law School.

The trend has been driven both by so-called innocence projects run by law schools and by special units established within prosecutors' offices to examine possible false confessions and official misconduct.

In the Detroit case, the judge ordered prosecutors to file a motion to dismiss the case, which means Sanford will not be retried, said a statement from Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy's office.

State police reinvestigated the case and found that a deputy who originally gave sworn testimony that Sanford drew an accurate diagram of the crime scene, later contradicted that testimony, the prosecutor's office's statement said.

The Michigan Innocence Clinic and other groups that work to overturn wrongful convictions had appealed the conviction, arguing that Smothers' confession matched the details of what happened in the murders, while Sanford's did not.

(Reporting by Fiona Ortiz in Chicago; Editing by Peter Cooney; Additional reporting by AOL.com)

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