While the Court of Appeals’ (COA) ruling is very positive, a new trial was not granted. A more accurate statement is that the Court of Appeals vacated the trial court’s order denying Davontae’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea.
In other words, the COA told the original trial judge that he must reconsider Davontae’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea after affording the defense the opportunity to present expert testimony regarding false confessions and the testimony by Smothers and/or his lawyer regarding his statements that he committed the murders.
Some context will help explain. In the original trial, Davontae and his lawyer had agreed to a bench trial. (No jury; just the judge.) They were unsuccessful in suppressing Davontae’s “confession”, making it extremely difficult to get an acquittal. So, they agreed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of Second Degree murder, rather than risk possibly of being convicted of First Degree murder with the sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Accepting his guilty plea to second degree murder, Judge Sullivan sentenced Davontae to 37 to 90 years plus two years for a felony firearm conviction. (That’s a deal???) Plea bargains for the innocent play on their fears of a more severe punishment and becomes a calculated decision having nothing to do with the truth. Click here for some excellent articles on this subject.
After Davontae was convicted and sentenced, Vincent Smothers told a Detroit police officer that he had committed the Runyan Street murders and that he had never set eyes on Davontae. When this happened, Davontae's counsel thought they would have a shot at a fair trial. So they had an evidentiary hearing with Judge Sullivan. They hoped that this “new evidence” of Smother’s confession would be sufficient for the judge to allow Davontae to withdraw his guilty plea and allow a new trial. Along with that, they also filed motions requesting that experts be allowed to explain to the court how “false confessions” can occur and how interrogation tactics can elicit a false confession. Judge Sullivan denied all these motions. The COA decided that Judge Sullivan had “abused his discretion” and had to allow them.
A retrial was not ordered by the court, but Judge Sullivan cannot make any decision without first following the directives of the Court of Appeals. In the end, Judge Sullivan still is to decide what all of this means. We hope this clarifies the Opinion. As always, we encourage you to read it for yourself by clicking here.
STOP! Before you sign up for our newsletter, consider registering, Registering includes our newsletter and so much more, including ways of getting to know others who have registered on our site. To register, click here. But if you really only want to receive our newsletter, you can do so by subscribing here. Subscribe to our newsletter
Angelo Henderson Radio Download
In 2012 Ken Wyniemko was a special guest of Richard Bernstein, who served as co-host with the late Angelo Henderson on 1200 AM Detroit Radio. This segment of the show was dedicated to understanding wrongful convictions and what can be done to free the wrongfully convicted and prevent others from this fate.
In The Research Corner, Professor Marvin Zalman presents summaries of current academic research on wrongful conviction in a succinct and readable format. We hope that the summaries will provide you with a more sophisticated understanding of innocence issues and stimulate further interest.