Popular package store owner remembered at killer's sentencing

Their emotions still raw five years after Jared Silva was gunned down at his neighborhood package store in New London, the mother and sister of the kind-hearted businessman spoke Thursday at the sentencing of his killer.

Gary L. Clarke, 25, who shot Silva during a botched robbery in front of Jared’s Packy, was sentenced in New London Superior Court to 25 years in prison for first-degree manslaughter with a firearm.

Bolstered by fellow members of the Survivors of Homicide support group and the court’s victim advocate, Dorothy “Dot” Silva, who is in her 80s, did her best to hold it together as she told the court how she will never forget the night police came to tell her what had happened to her son.

Her voice shaking, she said it was not a happy day for anybody, including Clarke, who has lost his youth and his ability to be an active father to his little girl.

“I’m grateful that Gary has finally told the truth, and I hope he emerges from this a better person,” Silva said.

She returned to her seat in tears.

Silva’s sister, Nancy Donovan, highlighted the loss suffered by the community as a result of her brother’s death.

“This was a man who went out of his way to connect with people, make them feel special,” she said.

Silva used his small store at the corner of Ocean Avenue and Squire Street as a drop-in center for the neighborhood, Donovan said. He rewarded children who earned a good report card. He loaned money or provided advice to those who asked.

Clarke, who is 25, had shot Silva, 47, in the head as Silva left the store after closing time on Oct. 12, 2007. Initially charged with murder, Clarke pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter as his case went to trial in May for the second time. The first trial, in January 2011, ended in a mistrial when the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict.

State’s Attorney Michael L. Regan said it was unusual that Clarke had provided his own version of the crime when interviewed during a pre-sentencing investigation. Most defendants do not speak as freely about their crimes, even after they have pleaded guilty.

Regan said he had offered a plea deal to Clarke as the second trial got under way because the first trial had ended with a hung jury, key witness Amiel Gomez could not be located, and the remaining eyewitness, Tyshaun Smith, was uncooperative.

Clarke and Cosmo Frieson, both of New London, had planned to rob Silva because Clarke’s girlfriend needed rent money, according to Regan. Frieson had stolen a gun from an unlocked car the day before. Frieson and Clarke waited outside the package store for Silva, who resisted when they attempted to steal the money he was carrying. When police arrived at the scene, Clarke was standing over Silva’s body.

Frieson cooperated with the prosecution and is expected to be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. A sentencing date will be announced next week, according to Regan.

Speaking for Clarke, who he said was too emotional to talk at his sentencing, defense attorney Jeremiah Donovan said Clarke gave a statement during the presentencing interview because he was aware that Silva’s relatives wanted to know the full story. Clarke and Frieson had intended the gun to be used only as a prop, Donovan said.

“As they struggled for the gun, the gun went off,” Donovan said. “Gary never intended to take a life.”

Judge Patrick J. Clifford told Silva’s family they were “extremely gracious” and thanked them for putting a personal touch to the case. He called the crime “another senseless, sad scenario, destroying innocent people and everybody’s sense of security.”

“This was a robbery of a hard-working, innocent small business owner who was very well respected by this community,” Clifford said.

Clarke had no criminal record when he was arrested for killing Silva, though after police entered his DNA into the national database, he was charged with raping a woman he did not know four months before the homicide.

Regan, the state’s attorney, said he would not be prosecuting Clarke for the sexual assault because the state has been unable to locate the alleged victim after many attempts.

Silva’s mother and sister said they were relieved that Clarke’s sentencing was behind them but that they would be returning to court for Frieson’s sentencing.

In the hallway outside the courtroom, attorney Chester Fairlie, the leader of the local chapter of Survivors of Homicide, called upon the community to come together to prevent more tragic deaths. He said he had spoken with Clarke’s mother.

“I would like to call upon community and church leaders to work with Survivors of Homicide to get (the) word out to the young men of the devastation they cause to victim’s families and even their own families and the ruin of their own lives,” Fairlie said.

He said even if the effort reaches just a few people, it would be worthwhile.

k.florin@theday.com

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