DETROIT – A killer-for-hire who admitted murdering eight people and other victims he can't remember was sentenced Friday to at least 52 years in prison in a plea deal that spared him from a mandatory life term and averted a series of emotional trials.
Vincent Smothers confessed to the Detroit killings during a sequence of sometimes remorseful interviews with police in 2008. But there was no sign of contrition in court — and that angered Wayne County Circuit Judge Craig Strong.
"No matter what I say it's not going to help my situation," Smothers told Strong.
"Yes," the judge replied, "it's all about you."
Smothers, 29, pleaded guilty to eight counts of second-degree murder in June. He said he was a hit man hired to kill people who crossed drug dealers. The only exception was his last job, the fatal shooting of Rose Cobb, a Detroit police officer's wife, in December 2007.
The 52-year-to-100-year sentence means Smothers won't be eligible for parole until he's about 80.
The judge, quoting a pre-sentencing report by the state Corrections Department, said it was "shocking" to read that Smothers told an interviewer that he killed other people but can't remember their names.
The report also quotes him as saying people have been wrongly convicted for murders that he had committed, an apparent reference to a teenager in prison for four slayings in a Detroit drug den. The boy is trying to get his 2008 conviction thrown out. Smothers has never been charged.
Drug-related homicides are a big-city reality. Nonetheless, the details of Smothers' work were startling. He told police that he killed people while talking on a cell phone and fired even when they appeared to lay lifeless on the ground.
"This is a man who cannot be rehabilitated," Strong said. "He viewed killing people as a business, an occupation, take lives for money."
Prison, the judge said, actually is a minimal punishment.
Smothers "will be alive. He will have the benefit of health care. He will have the benefit of life that is not cruel," Strong said.
The judge allowed relatives of two victims to address the court. Sheryl Gary noted that Smothers received just $50 to kill Cobb, her sister.
"You took away a valuable part of our family. That lady's life was worth more than $50," Gary said.
Smothers told police that the murder was arranged by Cobb's husband, a police officer, who was having an affair. He was never charged but hanged himself eight months later.
Monica Cherry, the widow of victim Clarence Cherry, told the judge that a long prison sentence is better than a death sentence because Smothers will look in the mirror each day and realize why he's behind bars.
Strong said Smothers still has a chance to "correct wrongs" by stepping up to help anyone wrongly convicted of other killings.
Another judge has been holding hearings to determine if Davontae Sanford, 17, can scratch his guilty plea to four homicides.
Smothers told police he was responsible for the killings a month after the boy's conviction in 2008, when he was 15. Prosecutors concede that Smothers probably had a role but they won't back off Sanford's guilty plea.
Defense lawyer Gabi Silver said the burden isn't on Smothers.
"The police have his statements. It's not him who doesn't want to correct things," Silver told The Associated Press.