Friday, 29 April 2011

Detroit hit man takes the 5th but is willing to let lawyer talk about 4 fatal shootings

DETROIT — A Detroit hit man who pleaded guilty to eight murders is willing to let his former lawyer testify about his role in four other fatal shootings, an extraordinary waiver that could possibly help free a young man from prison, attorneys said Wednesday.
Vincent Smothers, transported 130 miles from a prison in western Michigan, invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to testify.
But his lawyer said Smothers has agreed to waive attorney-client privilege and allow his former attorney, Gabi Silver, to disclose their conversations about the fatal 2007 shootings of four people at a Detroit drug den.
"He has no problem" with it, James Howarth told a judge.
Davontae Sanford, who was 14 at the time of the killings, pleaded guilty to murder three years ago and is in prison until at least 2046. But he's trying to wipe out the conviction, claiming he simply was trying to please adults and lied to police when he confessed.
There is no dispute that Smothers, 30, told police about his own role in the so-called Runyon Street murders when he was arrested in 2008 and confessed to a string of killings in Detroit. But he's never been charged in that case, and prosecutors haven't explained why.
Smothers was sentenced to at least 52 years in prison for eight drug-related slayings as a killer-for-hire.
"He doesn't want an innocent person to go down," Howarth told The Associated Press outside a courtroom Wednesday. "He has a legitimate desire not to have somebody go to prison for a crime they didn't commit."
But Smothers won't testify about Runyon Street because he probably would have to name accomplices and doesn't want to be labeled a "snitch" in prison, Howarth said.
Smothers could be forced to testify if granted immunity, but the Wayne County prosecutor's office isn't offering it. Meanwhile, Sanford's attorney wants to put Silver on the witness stand. She was Smothers' lawyer for more than two years and negotiated his plea deal and sentence in 2010.
Silver would testify that "Mr. Sanford has no connection to Mr. Smothers," Kim McGinnis said in court. "This would be the most probative (evidence) that we can present that Mr. Smothers doesn't know Mr. Sanford."
Silver was ready to testify Wednesday, but Wayne County Circuit Judge Brian Sullivan said he needed more time to consider it.
"I'm not comfortable with it," Silver told the AP. "I took an oath not to reveal a client's secrets. But I've been subpoenaed, and if (Smothers) waives privilege, I'm going to do it."
Prosecutors have refused to back away from Sanford's guilty plea. They acknowledge that Smothers may have had a role in the Runyon Street murders but still insist that Sanford, now 18, was present.
 Daily Journal - Detroit hit man takes the 5th but is willing to let lawyer talk about 4 fatal shootings via

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