Rocket Owner Had Suicide Video, Planned Shoot-Out, Police Say

By: Lauren Zakalik Email
By: Lauren Zakalik Email

After investigating the murder and subsequent home arson of 30-year-old corrections officer Steven Sampier for weeks, police realized their prime suspect-- Rocket Nightclub owner Todd Sanford-- was teetering on a dangerous edge.

"Officers discovered he'd confessed the murder to his girlfriend and even went so far as to prepare what officers came to believe was a suicide video," says Mark Blumer, Jackson County Chief Assistant Prosecutor.

But the dangers didn't end there.

"He was contemplating involving officers in a shoot-out if they came to get him," Blumer says of the material police found.

All this was uncovered Wednesday from a search warrant; turns out, police say Sanford killed Sampier because he was dating his ex-girlfriend.

When a deputy went to arrest the nightclub owner for murder after an emergency warrant had been issued, Sanford used a stolen .45 caliber handgun to take his own life. A Jackson County Sheriff's deputy found Sanford as he was pulling into his Henrietta Township home driveway and told him he was being arrested.

"Sanford put [the gun] to his head and pulled the trigger," Blumer says.

"Nobody's happy with how this case came out, nobody wanted it to come out this way, but this was Mr. Sanford's decision."

But Sanford's attorney is furious. He tells News 10 the prosecutor had promised him they'd tell him before they arrested him so they could bring him in, because Sanford was in an unstable state. That phone call never happened-- but attorney Steve Chaney says if it had, his client would potentially still be alive.

Blumer disagrees.

"Originally it was agreed he could turn himself in, but circumstances dramatically changed and prevented that from being possible. We simply couldn't go through the route we discussed earlier."

Blumer says the quickly-developing details, such as the suicide video and threats to public safety, made Sanford a huge risk to the general public, and the fact he had a gun on his lap when he was found-- in his opinion-- shows he was out to harm people.

"It turned out in an unfortunate result. It's not how we wanted it to end," says Mike Jester, director of Blackman Township Public Safety Department.

Sanford had owner the Rocket Nightclub for some years with friend Patrick Colligan, a former corrections officer. Sanford himself was a former state trooper. According to Lt. Jim Shaw, Sanford had worked at the MSP Jackson post from 1997 until 2004. He left to pursue the club business.

He quickly became a suspect in Sampier's murder after Sampier was found dead in his burning Blackman Township home November 25. Authorities believe the house was set on fire to cover up the fact Sampier had been killed. Police tell News 10 today Sampier had been shot twice: once in the back, and once in the back of the head.

Police connected the two men because Sampier was dating Sanford's ex-girlfriend, who still had connections to Sanford. Police say Sanford confessed to murdering Sampier to that ex-girlfriend on Wednesday, and because of that, they attained an emergency arrest warrant for open murder charges and felony firearm charges.

Colligan, Sanford's business partner, is also in trouble with the law; Wednesday he showed up to the crime scene armed and aggressive, Blumer says, and crossed over police tape. He caused a scene and eventually had to be arrested. He will be charged with obstruction of justice. When asked if he's being looked into as part of the murder or arson investigation, Blumer refused to answer.


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