A brutal quadruple homicide, a 14-year-old witness in his pajamas, and two confessions.

At only 14 years old -- Davontae Sanford's life would change forever when four people were shot and killed next to his home.

It's rare for police to get one confession in such a heinous crime. But two people coming forward, both claiming to be the killer?

And the other big question in this case of dueling murder confessions: Was the right guy sent to prison?

A shooting on Detroit's east side is not uncommon -- but four young people gunned down with an AK-47 assault rifle is a big story.

The September 2007 murder of the three men and one woman became known as the "Runyon Street Slayings." Detroit Police initially believe it's a robbery gone horribly wrong.

"It was in the headlines, in the press and I think the police felt a lot of pressure to solve it, and solve it quickly," said attorney David Moran, who co-founded the Michigan Innocence Clinic.

The most shocking headline was who Detroit Police said pulled the trigger: a 14-year-old half-blind special-education teenager roaming the neighborhood in his pajamas.

Davontae Sanford saw cop lights and yellow police tape at the neighbor's house. His mom Taminko tells Crime Watch Daily he just wanted to go see what was going on.

"Basically going outside cost him his life, going outside cost him his youth, cost him his innocence, cost him everything, just by going outside," said Taminko.

Police first notice Davontae after a police dog sniffing for clues wandered up to him in a park adjacent to the crime scene. Cops ask the shivering 14-year-old if he saw anything.

"Initially he said that he knew something about the killers and he named some kids in the neighborhood he thought might have been involved," said attorney David Moran.

Moran says that around 4 a.m. police ask permission from Davontae's grandmother to take him down to the station to answer more questions. She signs off for the teenager to go alone.

"For reasons that I cannot possibly figure out, the police decided that he had something to do with the murder and interrogated him that night without an adult present," said Moran. "For a 14-year-old boy alone without an adult present, it must have been terrifying."

Police chose not to videotape Davontae's first interrogation. Cops eventually took Davontae home. But later that night they come back to pick up the teenager again for more questioning.

"They said 'No, no, we know that you know more about this than you're letting on, we think you were involved,' and so he tells them what they want to hear, and he tells them this story that's just baloney," said Moran.

According to police reports, after hours on the hot seat, Davontae tells them he and three buddies went to rob the house and ended up shooting four people inside.

"He said that they threw the guns in a grassy lot as they ran away from the killings, and no guns were found there, so everything was wrong, everything was wrong, which is a sure sign that they were barking up the wrong tree," said Moran.

But the final nail for Davontae? A detective says Davontae drew a diagram of the murder scene and marks exactly where each victim was shot.

Comparing Davontae's diagram to a drawing by a detective at the crime scene side by side, you can see the location of the bodies is nearly identical. That information is something police say only the killer would have known.

"The police relentlessly hour after hour will tell the person 'We know you did it, we know you're not telling the truth' until eventually they get him to talk, and once they get him to talk they turn on the camera," said Moran.

The teenager reportedly could only read at a third-grade level, so the detective asks him simple yes/no questions to details about the crime.

"They get what looks like a convincing confession," said Moran.

And 24 hours later Detroit Police close the case of the Runyon Street murders. They've caught their killer.

With that confession, and seemingly that confession alone, Davontae Sanford was convicted of murdering four people. He was sentenced from 37 to 90 years in prison. His family was in shock.

But less than a month later, a bombshell that should have blown this closed case wide open: A self-professed hitman, 25-year-old Vincent Smothers, tells Detroit cops he's been on a killing spree.

"He says 'Look, you got me, I'm a hitman,'" said attorney Moran. "He said 'Turn on the cameras and I'll tell you about all the hits I've committed.'"

On camera, Smothers tells detectives he used an AK-47 in shooting at least three people on Runyon Street.

"He states on tape, videotape, in graphic extraordinarily accurate detail describing 12 murders that he committed, including the four on Runyon Street," said Moran.

Davontae Sanford, at 14 years old, was sitting in a maximum security prison facing the possibility of 90 years behind bars, sentenced as an adult for a grisly quadruple murder that Detroit Police say he willingly confessed to.

"I felt that I failed him as a mother because I couldn't help him," said Taminko Sanford. She says she never believed for one minute her little boy was capable of murdering anyone.

But Davontae's original attorney, a man named Robert Slameka, whose law license has been suspended, somehow convinced Taminko pleading guilty to the murders was her son's only hope of ever getting out of jail.

"Slameka tells the family the case is hopeless and he should accept a plea and so the family put pressure on Davontae to accept a plea," said attorney David Moran, who co-founded the Michigan Innocence Clinic.

"I was advised and told by someone that we put our trust in to do it, and we did it," said Taminko.

Then just weeks after taking a plea deal, Davontae makes another shocking confession, telling everyone he's not a killer -- he made the whole thing up.

"Most people can't believe that people falsely confess to serious crimes," said Moran. "But in fact we know that it happens all the time, and some people are a lot more vulnerable to it than others, especially the mentally ill, the intoxicated and especially the young."

David Moran is Davontae's current attorney. He believes the teen's diminished learning capacity made him an easy target for a few rogue Detroit cops desperate to close the high-profile case.

"It's not a matter of he walks in and says 'Hey, I'm gonna make up this false story,'" said Moran. "It's the police relentlessly, hour after hour, will tell the person: 'We know you did it, we know you're not saying it, you're not telling the truth.'"

Moran says police were literally feeding Davontae the facts and he was simply parroting what he heard.

"Once they finally break down the suspect and get them to actually go along with the narrative that the police want, then they turn on the camera and they get what looks like a convincing confession, and that's what happened with Davontae," said Moran.

Despite Davontae now claiming he didn't do it, the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office maintained they had their killer.

No one may have ever questioned Davontae Sanford's conviction if not for Vincent Smothers, the self-proclaimed hitman who suddenly gained a conscience.

"I got a 3-week-old baby girl," said Smothers tells detectives in a recorded interrogation. "I couldn't put them through a life on the run or the possibility of getting killed."

"He was determined to take responsibility for the murders he committed," said Moran.

Sixteen days after Davontae Sanford was cuffed and sent to prison, Smothers stepped up and told police they had the wrong guy.

"He wasn't doing this because he felt bad for Davontae, he was doing it because he just wanted to take responsibility for what he had done," said Moran.

Smothers leads police to the AK-47 assault rifle he used to commit the murders, and draws his own diagram of the crime scene: It's a perfect match too.

"The police and the prosecution knew who really committed the Runyon Street killings," said Moran.

But, Moran says, the reaction from the Detroit Police is simply appalling.

"Instead of saying 'Oh my God, thank God we found this man, we can clear that 14-year-old boy we just sent to prison,' the reaction was to cover it up," said Moran.

"This was a high-profile quadruple murder and they had arrested and sent to prison a 14-year-old kid," said Moran.

"So think how embarrassing it would have been to say 'You know what, we got it all wrong, it wasn't a 14-year-old kid, it was a professional hitman and his accomplice who did this."

Vincent Smothers is offered a plea deal: eight counts of second-degree murder with a sentence of 50 to 100 years. But shockingly, Wayne County prosecutors never charged him with the four murders on Runyon Street, maintaining Davontae Sanford is the real killer.

"So why did they give him that deal? Well, the only answer that anyone has been able to come up with is they didn't want him going to trial," said Moran. "Because if the case went to trial it was going to come out that not only had he confessed to these eight, but he had also confessed to the four on Runyon Street."

So Davontae Sanford sits behind bars for nearly a decade.

Life in prison for Davontae Sanford can only be described as pure hell.

"Anybody could see that this confession was false because it was just wrong on the key facts of the case," said Davontae's attorney David Moran.

Vincent Smothers, a known hitman, also confessed to the murders, and Moran says without a doubt he's the killer that he claims Detroit cops tried to cover up.

"He said 'Look, I admitted from day one I did the four on Runyon Street,' and they didn't want to believe it," said Moran. "The police and prosecutorial misconduct at that point of covering up Vincent Smothers' confession is egregious."

Despite the hitman's confession, the case was never re-opened.

So Davontae stayed locked, facing 90 years for crimes he never committed. Then disturbing video surfaces showing Davontae being subdued in his cell by several guards in protective gear. Michigan prison officials maintain Davontae was suicidal, and guards were holding him down for his own protection.

"I had to always constantly tell Davontae, 'You can't give up, you coming home,' but sometimes within myself I didn't believe it, but I couldn't show it, I couldn't tell him 'I don't know if you're coming home,'" said Taminko Sanford.

But Davontae was about to get help from the University of Michigan Law School's Michigan Innocence Clinic, and the most unlikely hero: that self-confessed hitman Vincent Smothers.

"He wasn't doing this because he felt bad for Davontae, he was doing it because he just wanted to take responsibility for what he had done," said Moran.

In a sworn affidavit, Smothers tells the Innocence Clinic: "I shot and killed four people at 19741 Runyon Street. ... I cannot emphasize strongly enough that Davontae Sanford was not involved. ... Davontae Sanford is being wrongly incarcerated for crimes that I know he did not commit."

The affidavit is enough for Michigan State Police to launch their own investigation. They immediately notice something suspicious about a key piece of evidence: the sketch of the crime scene that former Detroit Deputy Chief James Tolbert testified Davontae drew all by himself. Turns out Davontae didn't draw it after all.

Deputy Chief Tolbert contradicts his original sworn testimony, saying he thinks he drew the house. With that key piece of evidence now thrown out, state prosecutors finally reverse Davontae's conviction.

It was a homecoming nine years in the making.

"My great-grandmother, she passed when I was in prison, I didn't get a chance to go to her funeral, my mother's wedding, I wasn't allowed to go," Davontae Sanford tells Crime Watch Daily. "I wasn't allowed to graduate through high school, it's so many -- prom, homecoming, driver's training -- I had missed a lot, a whole lot."

Is there hate, anger in Davontae's heart? "No."

"That nine years could've been 20 years. That nine years could've been that 39 years or beyond that," said Davontae.

The once-innocent 14-year-old kid is now a changed 23-year-old man.

"It's been hard 'cause I do have those flashbacks where I think about everything I done been through in prison," said Davontae. "Very bad, I mean like the mental and physical abuse that you receive by the guards on a daily basis, it drives you mad. They thought they was breaking me but they actually made me more stronger for this."

Deputy Chief Tolbert, the officer who falsely testified about that crime scene drawing, has never been charged with perjury.

The Detroit Police Department has refused to comment on the case, but the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office did make a statement. It reads in part:

"This case began in 2007 and has been litigated almost continuously since. ... New information from MSP led to the conclusion that the interests of justice required that Davontae Sanford's convictions be set aside."

"The truth was resisted and so Davontae Sanford ended up spending, instead of 16 days in prison, he ended up spending nine years," said Moran.

"I forgive them, but I think at the end of the day he deserves an apology," said Davontae's mother Taminko.

Davontae Sanford may get more than an apology. He's filed a civil suit against the Detroit police who tried to bury Vincent Smothers' confession.

"It's because of [Vincent Smothers] I got a second shot at life. I'm living," said Davontae.

Davontae has also started his own nonprofit organization called Innocent Dreams. He speaks out to other teens, hopefully inspiring them to stay on the straight and narrow.

"I know I can't get that nine years back, it's gone. I don't want to be remembered as the 14-year-old that went to prison for a crime he didn't commit. I don't want that to be my story, my legacy," said Davontae. "I want to be known for Innocent Dreams."

And one more interesting footnote: Since his confession things have changed in Michigan. A new law now requires police to record any interrogations relating to a felony case, especially a homicide.

The Detroit Police Department could not be reached for comment on the case.

The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office released a (.PDF) document on the case.