An exonerated Detroit man is giving vulnerable motorists $25,000 in gas and a car to one lucky person

A Detroit man who received a $7.5 million settlement after being exonerated of four murders he did not commit gave back in a big way to his city’s residents. As the country struggles with high fuel prices, he has donated tens of thousands of dollars in gasoline to people in need.

On Tuesday, August 9, Vomtae Sanford gave away $25,000 worth of gasoline to two “vulnerable” groups: women and elderly men in his hometown. For him, a man who served eight years in prison because a detective talked him into admitting it when he was 15, it was a needed gift that recognized in a small way how unwavering his community was to him in his darkest days.

“The city was behind me, so it’s only right that I give back to the city and to those most vulnerable,” Sanford said, according to the Detroit Free Press.

News of his gift of gas spread like wildfire on social media. Fox News radio personality Charlie Langton wrote: “Free Gas!!! But you better hurry. Cars line up for more than a mile.”

In 2007, a Sanford teenager was accused of taking the lives of four people. The next year, he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and took the hit for a series of fatal shootings that killed four people. He later said he was innocent and accepted the plea deal because he felt he had no choice and was not equipped with strong enough counsel.

Years after his conviction, courts were shocked when a Michigan State Police report pointed to two other men as the killers, and one of them, a hitman named Vincent Smothers, claimed responsibility for the murders. In 2016, when Sanford was 24, Wayne County Attorney Kym Worthy moved to have the young man’s conviction vacated.

Worthy also stated that her belief in his exoneration was not related to Smothers’ confession to the murders but to newfound police misconduct towards a minor. She noted that Detroit Deputy Police Chief James Tolbert was at the center of a botched MSP investigation that prompted her decision.

In transcripts there was a sketch of the house where the four victims were fatally shot. Initially it was said that Sanford drew it. That was not the case; Tolbert eventually testified under oath that he had drawn the sketch.

It should be noted that this was just the tip of the iceberg of evidence pointing to the young man’s innocence, including traces of gun remains, dogs and Sanford’s confession.

Years after he was free, Sanford filed a lawsuit alleging his civil rights had been violated and seeking punitive and damages. His case never made it to trial, and in March 2022, the Detroit City Council agreed to pay $7.5 million.

“When I was in prison and I didn’t have anyone, the next thing I know is that people are fighting for me all over the world,” Sanford recalled while discussing his motivation to help the less fortunate. “I came home, I came home with nothing.”

When people came to the BP gas station at 10601 E. Outer Drive, he was giving away a lot more than gas. People received groceries and Walmart gift cards and jammed to music before he made someone’s year by giving away a car.

“Knowing the great work I am trying to do is appreciated. I know these people need this, and to know that I’m able to help these people means the world,” Sanford said. An exonerated Detroit man is giving vulnerable motorists $25,000 in gas and a car to one lucky person

James Brien

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