Gary Clarke and Cosmo Frieson were "like brothers" before they were implicated in the botched robbery that led to the Oct. 12, 2007 shooting death of New London package store owner Jared Silva.
Testifying at Clarke's murder trial in Superior Court Monday, Frieson said the two men had hung out together "on a daily basis" after meeting three or four years earlier. Clarke and Frieson's sister, Laquesha, have a daughter together and lived in a Buchanan Road apartment.
Frieson, 22, and Clarke, 24, now find themselves on opposite sides. Frieson, who said he confessed to police at the urging of his grandmother three years ago, has accepted a plea deal that requires him to testify against his one-time friend. He will be sentenced at a later date to up to 20 years in prison for attempted first-degree robbery. Clarke, charged with felony murder, murder and attempted robbery, has pleaded not guilty and opted for a trial.
On Monday, Frieson seemed to peer directly at Clarke after two correction officers led him past Clarke's seat at the defense table to his perch on the witness stand. Dressed in a neon orange prison jump suit and shackles, he rocked back and forth in his chair and spoke softly as he answered a series of questions about the crime. He looked into the gallery, where family members and friends of both men and the mother and sister of the victim were listening to the details of what officials have deemed "a senseless slaying."
The motive, according to Frieson, was his sister's overdue rent payments.
"He (Clarke) said he needed money because my sister was losing her apartment," Frieson testified.
Frieson's sister would later leave her daugther with Clarke's mother and move out of the area, according to testimony.
Frieson said that on that October 2007 night, the two men met at a 24-hour store at Ocean Avenue and Bank Street and planned to rob another convenience store farther up Ocean Avenue. Frieson said the men changed their minds and targeted Jared's Packy because it was too cold to walk farther.
Frieson said he provided Clarke with a gun that he bought for $50 from a friend who had stolen it from a car. He said the two men waited until the store closed, and Clarke approached Silva with the gun as Silva walked out of the store. Frieson then went on to describe the last moments of Silva's life. The 46-year-old Niantic man, mourned by many as a kind and generous man, had owned the store for about a decade.
"He (Clarke) told him, 'Don't move,' '' Frieson testified. "Jared turned around and started fighting."
Frieson said it looked "like the gun was coming up to Gary," so he ran up and punched Silva. He said Silva fell on his back, and he ran.
"I heard a gunshot," he said.
Frieson said he and Clarke met up a few houses away and Clarke realized he had dropped his cell phone. Clarke gave Frieson the gun and his jacket and went back to retrieve the phone, Frieson said. In crime scene photos viewed by the jury last week, a cell phone was lying on the ground, in a pool of blood, between Silva's arm and torso.
Frieson said he took the gun to the house of Tyshaun Smith, who lived a few doors down from the package store, and hid it in a couch. He said he took off his hooded sweatshirt, which was black with red "skull" designs on it, and donned a sweater that Smith gave him. With a couple other men, they watched from a balcony as police arrived at the crime scene. Frieson said a police officer walked a dog up the street in an attempt to pick up a scent and that he arranged for a ride away from the area.
"Jared had just died, and I was a part of it," Frieson said when State's Attorney Michael L. Regan asked why he wanted to leave.
Later, Frieson said he met up with Clarke at Clarke's apartment across town.
"I asked him why he shot Jared," Frieson testified. "He said he was nervous."
They watched the news to see if the crime was reported, he said, and he left the apartment next morning. He said he never again saw the gun, which he described as a .357-magnum revolver, and that the men did not get any money from Jared that night. Frieson said he got his "hoodie" back when he saw it being worn by Smith's cousin.
A few days before his arrest, Frieson said he ran into Clarke on West Pleasant Street.
"He just said the cops were looking for me and to stay low," Frieson said.
While Regan is attempting to convince a jury that Clarke was the shooter, Clarke's attorney, Jeremiah Donovan, is pinning the blame on another man, Smith, who he said Monday belonged to a street gang called The Third Set with Frieson. Smith is expected to testify later this week.
Donovan was attempting to discredit Frieson through cross-examination when the trial ended for the day Monday. Dwelling on Frieson's previous conviction for a purse-snatching and false statements he gave to police, Donovan asked Frieson, "Isn't it fair to say that you would say just about anything in order to get what you want?"
"No," Frieson responded.
"You would agree you have repeatedly lied to police?" Donovan asked. "Yeah," was Frieson's answer. He said that once he got an attorney - Sebastian DeSantis - he admitted he had lied about some things and sat down with the state's attorney's office to tell the truth.