HARTFORD, CT — Clyde Meikle senselessly killed his 30-year-old cousin Clifford Walker over a parking space in 1994.
Meikle had started drinking at the age of 10 and doing drugs by 14, his attorneys said. He had taken to carrying loaded weapons and never finished high school after being expelled in ninth grade. He had been in and out of jail when he shot Walker in the stomach as the two argued over a parked car in Hartford.
But it was in Walker’s death that he would find his redemption.
“Twenty-six years ago I killed my cousin,” Meikle said while on video Friday from Cheshire Correctional Institution. “I am as responsible for his death today as I was then.”
While serving a 50-year prison sentence for the murder, Meikle has become a beacon of peace, hope and inspiration to not only the other members of the T.R.U.E. Unit at CCI, but to his college professors, correction officers, and advocates for prison reform.
A team of attorneys and interns at Yale Law School have taken up his case, seeking a sentence reduction that would likely get him out of prison possibly within weeks if the move is approved by Hartford Superior Court Judge David Gold.
But his early release is not an easy sell to Walker’s family, who said during an emotional virtual hearing Friday that they still suffer the pain that was foisted on them by Meikle’s actions and by his immediate family who until recently refused to apologize or reach out.
“If Clyde were out he wouldn’t have done what he did (in prison),” said Kimberly Walker, Clifford’s younger sister as she sobbed openly. “We have to live with this pain over and over. You think it’s okay because he has a degree? If he were out, he wouldn’t have gotten a degree. How are we supposed to cope with this to see him come out? Our family has never been the same.”
Gold is expected to announce his decision on the sentence reduction during another virtual court date on Jan. 15.
Meikle cried as he spoke of the pain he’s caused his family. “My actions that led to the death of Clifford are unspeakable,” he said before adding, “my presence will always be tinged by his absence.”
His incarceration forced him to “examine who I had become,” he said. “I had to be honest with myself on what I had done to my family.”
“I had to take agency for my actions and my life,” he said.
He’s now dedicated his life to learning and to inspiring young inmates to turn their lives around. He has a job offer from Mayor Luke Bronin’s office in the city of Hartford working with re-entry and violence prevention, said city Chief Operating Officer Thea Montanez. If that falls through, he has an offer with a national initiative to bring programs like T.R.U.E. to prisons throughout the country.
Meikle’s sentence reduction is supported by state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner James Rovella, who was the Hartford detective who investigated Walker’s murder.
It’s also supported by Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Donna Mambrino who worked with Rovella to prosecute Meikle. She gained a murder conviction and a 50-year sentence in 1998 in the case. After reviewing the 500 pages of information on Meikle’s transformation and good works sent to her by Yale Law School Clinical Professor of Law Miriam Gohara and a team at the Jerome Frank Legal Services Clinic, Mambrino had discussions with the Hartford State’s Attorney and Chief State’s Attorney before concluding that Meikle deserved a sentence reduction, she said.
After prosecuting 47 murders, including 12 capital felony cases, it was only the second time Mambrino had agreed to a sentence reduction hearing. “This is the first time I’ve agreed to a sentence reduction,” she said. “It’s not a decision I’ve entered into lightly.”
Former state Department of Correction Commissioner Scott Semple, along with then Gov. Dannel Malloy, initiated and supported the formation of T.R.U.E, Truthfulness (to oneself and others), Respectfulness (toward the community), Understanding (ourselves and what brought us here) and Elevating (into success) as a way of rehabilitating young inmates by providing intensive psychological help and pairing them with a mentors who are serving life sentences.
Semple, who testified during Friday’s hearing, called the 49-year-old mentor a “founding member” of the T.R.U.E. unit who had “been redeemed and belongs in the community.” Semple told Gold that he didn’t take his decision to testify on behalf of Meikle lightly, but he felt that he “wasn’t a public safety threat.”
“This is a really important decision, not only for Clyde, but for every incarcerated person in Connecticut and for staff,” Semple said.
Meikle had already begun his transformation years before he was chosen as a mentor in the T.R.U.E. unit in 2016, professors and advocates said. Since 2009, he’s earned his associate and bachelor’s degrees with a major in Philosophy through the Wesleyan Center for Prison Education and was awarded a Propel Justice Fellowship, which provides opportunities for formerly incarcerated college students to further their studies or professional development.
He has a calm demeanor that allows him to respect all views and opinions and he influenced how T.R.U.E. was created while also supporting the arts in prison, said Ryan Shanahan, research director for the Vera Institute which helped the DOC shape the T.R.U.E. unit.
He was also instrumental in crafting Restoring Promise, a national program promoted by the Vera Institute that is centered on many of the basic tenets of T.R.U.E., Shanahan said.
“Talking to Clyde is like talking to a college professor in his study and talking to a social worker,” Shanahan said. “Clyde has taught me that love is infinite and we must be responsible with it,” Shanahan said.
It’s a side of Meikle that Walker’s family was not able to see until the past few months when the drive to get him a sentence modification gathered steam. “I wouldn’t wish this agony on anybody,” said Natasha Walker, Clifford’s oldest daughter who was nine when her father was killed. “There’s not a day that doesn’t go by that I don’t think about my dad.”
She stubbornly celebrates her father’s birthday each year, even though it causes her pain, she said. This week she was able to have a 45 minute phone conversation with Meikle, her first since he was incarcerated 26 years ago. They both cried, she said.
“This is so painful for me,” she said. “I’m listening to these people who don’t know this man at all.”
“It doesn’t matter to me if he comes home today, tomorrow or after doing all 50 years,” she said. “I’m still going to be hurt.”