Clyde Meikle was only out of prison for three months when he senselessly killed his cousin, firing a sawed-off shotgun at point-blank range over a parking space in 1994.
But after serving 26 years of a 50-year sentence for the murder of Clifford Walker, Meikle will walk out of Cheshire Correctional Institution a free man due to his continued positive contribution to the T.R.U.E. Unit and his stellar record of seeking educational opportunities at every turn while incarcerated.
Hartford Superior Court Judge David Gold cautioned Meikle that he’ll have to handle life’s frustrations and failures without resorting to violence when he is in the community. But Gold said during a 45-minute ruling Friday that Meikle’s continued incarceration would not contribute to making him a better person.
“It would only serve to make him an older one,” Gold said.
The 49-year-old Meikle, represented by Yale Law School Clinical Professor of Law Miriam Gohara and a team at the Jerome Frank Legal Services Clinic, submitted a 447-page petition to the court in October detailing his good works while incarcerated in the hope of receiving a sentence modification.
Gold agreed to the request Friday shortening his sentence to 28 years after lauding Meikle’s accomplishments and detailing the reservations he weighed in making the decision. No date had been set for his release as of Friday, Gohara said.
Gold’s ruling offers a message of hope to all incarcerated people and their families, Gohara said. “I think what Judge Gold said about the importance of this to other incarcerated people in offering a concrete example of what can be done is important,” she said.
Meikle will be reviewed for placement in a halfway house when he is within 18 months of the end of his sentence, state Department of Correction spokeswoman Karen Martucci said.
His first thought when Gold announced the decision was to thank the warden and other prison officials for offering him the opportunity to work in the T.R.U.E. unit, Gohara said.
He woke up Friday morning with the victim’s family in mind and very aware that no matter what the outcome of the ruling was, it would be a painful day for his family, Gohara said.
Meikle hasn’t received a disciplinary ticket while in prison in over two decades, Gold said. He will be the first person to graduate with a bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University’s Center for Prison Education and he has created or led more than 20 programs for the T.R.U.E Unit which pairs mentors who are doing a life sentence with young men ages 18 to 25 to encourage their rehabilitation.
“Mr. Meikle has taken advantage of every single opportunity for rehabilitation and growth during his decades-long incarceration,” said Frankie Hedgepeth, a member of the legal team from the clinic, “and when there were no further opportunities or programs, he created them and led them for others.”
He was a founding member of the unit, said former state Department of Correction Commissioner Scott Semple, who along with then Gov. Dannel Malloy, 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), when he testified on Meikle’s behalf during a hearing on the sentence modification last month.
“This is a really important decision, not only for Clyde, but for every incarcerated person in Connecticut and for staff,” Semple told the judge at the time.
Semple said Friday Meikle’s story and Gold’s decision would inspire hope among inmates and show staff that success is possible. “It’s a very good example of what could happen if you do the right thing,” Semple said. “It sends a message to the incarcerated population.”
The sentence reduction was also supported by state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner James Rovella who was the Hartford police detective who investigated Walker’s death and Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Donna Mambrino who prosecuted Meikle and gained a murder conviction and a 50-year sentence in 1998.
It is only the second time in Mambrino’s career that she agreed to a sentence reduction hearing and the first time she has agreed to a sentence reduction, she said during last month’s hearing.
In the days before Meikle killed the 30-year-old Walker, he had robbed a young couple with a two-year-old at gunpoint, the judge said. He shot another man in the hours before Meikle placed the muzzle of a loaded sawed-off shotgun within inches of his cousin when he fired as the two argued over a parking spot, Gold said. Meikle was 23 when he committed the murder.
“I do however accept that the Clyde Meikle of 1994 is a different person than the Clyde Meikle of today,” Gold said. But the judge added that, “the nature, number and seriousness of Mr. Meikle’s crimes cannot be overlooked.”
Gold told Walker’s daughters who were 7 and 9 when their father was killed four days before his 30th birthday that as a judge he was required to balance several factors including the impact the crime had on them when making his decision.
“His life was priceless (referring to their father), there was no prison sentence of any length that can reflect the magnitude of your loss,” Gold said.
They were the true heroes continuing on with their daily lives after suffering unimaginable loss, Gold said. “In addition to Mr. Meikle, the Walker family received a similar life sentence,” Gold said.
The judge admitted that he questioned Meikle’s sincerity since it appeared through more than dozen court filings he made in several attempts to get his conviction thrown out over the span of two decades that the 49-year-old had not taken responsibility for his actions.
At one point the public defender’s office had refused to supply him with a fifth attorney since he had accused the other four in four separate court filings of providing inadequate representation, Gold said.
“I can’t help but have some nagging doubt about that,” Gold said.
But Gold was also concerned about the inmates who had witnessed Meikle’s transformation and the lives he had touched by counseling incarcerated young men to rehabilitate rather than continue with a life of crime.
If Meikle lost his bid for a sentence reduction after succeeding in turning his life around, “it would act as a disincentive for other inmates” Gold said.
Meikle who is called “Professor Meeks” by younger inmates has been awarded a “Propel Justice Fellowship” which provides financial and professional support if he chooses to further his education after he is released. He is scheduled to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies in May with a 3.67 grade point average.
“I think this offers a message to incarcerated people and their families,” Gohara said of Gold’s ruling. “Not everyone will accomplish what Mr. Meikle did but they can try.”