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Prosecutor: Questionable Testimony From Ex-Detroit Police Deputy Helped Wrongfully Convict Teen Of Quadruple Murder

DETROIT (WWJ) - Detroit's former deputy police chief may face criminal charges for his involvement the Devontae Sanford case. The Wayne County prosecutor's office says evidence in the case includes a recorded interview with James Tolbert.

In that interview, prosecutor's allege that Tolbert, a former deputy police chief,  contradicted earlier testimony claiming Sanford drew a diagram showing the location of the victims' bodies.

Prosecutor Kym Worthy says Tolbert's credibility is being "called into question," and an arrest warrant for Tolbert is currently being reviewed.

She defended her office's handling of the case, saying sometimes the "wheels of justice" move very slowly.

"Investigations don't take place like they do on TV," Worthy told WWJ, "they take time and they take attention and it's not like we can just take something and run to court or do something the next day - it takes time."

Devontae Sanford, 23, has been in prison since he was 15-years-old, convicted of a quadruple murder he did not commit. He was aided in his post-conviction defense by the Innocence Clinic at University of Michigan law school and the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth at Northwestern University law school.

The prosecutor said several new pieces of evidence were uncovered that resulted in Sanford's release from prison.

Worthy says one piece of evidence that Michigan State Police uncovered involved inconsistent testimony from Detroit former deputy police chief, James Tolbert.

Tolbert questioned Sanford in 2007 about the layout inside the house where the murders took place.

Attention turned to the confession by convicted killer Vincent Smothers.

Smothers, a known hit-man, confessed to the murders in 2008.

"He made his first statement in 2008 a few weeks after Mr. Sanford pleaded guilty in the sentence," says Worthy, "the first statement was vague and devoid of any real facts."

She says Smothers had initially refused to answer any questions under oath.

"Both times he refused to testify and refused to answer any questions under oath," said Worthy. "The investigating officers, including Deputy Chief James Tolbert and Sgt. Russell - testified about Mr. Sanford's statement -- that I outlined for you before and the defense also called witnesses during this 2-year plus period of time.

Sanford's current legal team says he had poor representation at the time when he agreed to plead guilty.

Worthy says Sanford was offered numerous opportunities to consult with attorneys and family members before he made the decision to plead guilty.

Smothers, a Detroit hit-man, was convicted in 2010 of killing eight people, testified that Devontae Sanford played no role in the murders of the four people in Detroit.

Meanwhile, Sanford returned home and had a meal he had been talking about for almost a decade:

"He got his Chinese food ... the Chinese food he wanted for eight years," said his mom Tameko Sanford, but didn't eat much of it.

"Thrill is not even a word to describe (how I feel) right now," said his mom. "It's overwhelming. That's my baby being home."

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