MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, where Kevin Stanley is incarcerated, according to state records. He was convicted in 1989. Yehyun Kim /

A 51-year-old New Havener who has served 33 years behind bars for a murder he committed in 1989 got his chance in court to make a video-streamed plea for another chance at freedom.

He was joined by a host of formerly incarcerated supporters who pledged to help him transition out of prison if he were to be released — along with his victim’s family and friends and state prosecutors, who sought to keep him locked up.

Kevin Stanley and his lawyer, Alex Taubes, appeared before state Superior Court Judge Elpedio Vitale last week after submitting a motion for sentence modification asking the court to reduce the 60-year sentence he received after a jury trial.

Staney has spent the past three decades-plus behind bars for his shooting and killing of Javin Green on the corner of Dixwell Avenue and Argyle Street in 1989, a crime he committed at 18 years old. Green came to the area looking for someone among a group of kids and teenagers who threw a rock at his girlfriend’s window. The group included Stanley, who responded to a confrontation with Green by pulling out his revolver and shooting Green three times.

“First, I would like to apologize for the family of Javin Green for the terrible decision I made to pick up a gun and resolve a dispute,” Stanley said during Friday’s hearing.

“The decision I made that day was wrong and caused a lot of anguish to a family that did not deserve it,” he continued. ​“I have dealt with years of regret. I made a bad decision and regret that I was not more mature.”

As a 52-year-old now, Stanley said, ​“Today, I am a totally different person than I was 33 years ago. … I had to learn to get along with people from all walks of life … I also had to learn how to walk away from conflicts.”

The judge did not issue a decision on Friday, promising instead to hand down a ruling soon.

The hearing, which was held online via video conference, occurred just one day after Gov. Ned Lamont and Board of Pardons and Paroles paused the state’s commutation process — a separate pathway to shorter sentences — in response to backlash over the number of people across Connecticut whose sentences had been shortened.

The hearing also took place several days after the governor removed Carleton Giles from his position as the parole board chair, citing Giles’ leadership in issuing 71 commutations, a sharp increase from previous years, in 2022. 

These events have narrowed the options for people like Stanley who are seeking shorter prison terms.

For the past two years, Taubes said that he alone has helped 83 clients obtain shorter sentences, eliminating a total of 935 years of prison time. Just over half of those clients received commutations from the state’s parole board, a process that for now is no longer an option; the rest asked a judge to consider shortening their sentences, as Stanley did on Friday, empowered by a 2021 state law opening up eligibility for a sentence modification.

The state’s policies around prison terms particularly affect Black men. As of 2020, Black people were 9.4 times more likely to be incarcerated compared to white people in Connecticut, and Black men across the country receive longer sentences than white men convicted of similar crimes.

“The issue of mass incarceration and its racial inequity are something that a governor should not put on hold,” said Taubes.

Lamont’s decision inflamed a brewing debate over what the purpose of a prison sentence should be, what it means for someone to change over the course of decades behind bars, and what it should take for a person to earn back their freedom.

Those questions reemerged at the root of Friday’s hearing, when Stanley and Taubes presented their case for a shortened sentence.

Stanley described himself as a comforting and encouraging person to the younger people he meets in prison. ​“Because of the way I carry myself and the positive energy I put forth, people gravitate toward me.” 

Taubes noted that Stanley has faced health challenges in recent years, having had a tumor removed and temporarily needing a colostomy bag for three years.

Taubes asked the judge to show ​“some measure of grace and mercy” to Stanley, ​“while acknowledging that he will forever be convicted of and guilty of his actions on that day when he shot and killed when he was 18 years old.”

Seven others testified in support of a shortened sentence for Stanley, including violence interrupters and prison reentry advocates who pledged to help Stanley find support and opportunities to mentor young people after exiting prison.

Tyrone Whittaker of the Connecticut Violence Intervention Program said he’s known Stanley since the two of them were kids. ​“I seen his change, I see where he started from,” he said. ​“We constantly on the phone. We talk all the time. We have conversations about life. His mind state is in the right place, your honor.” 

Since Whittaker left prison five years ago, he said he’s been ​“mentoring Mr. Stanley on the phone.” He promised to support Stanley in finding work and adjusting to a new life if the judge grants him a shorter sentence: ​“We will give him the guidance he needs.”

Troy Streater, the newly elected alder representing parts of Dixwell, Newhallville and Prospect Hill, stressed that Stanley would be a valuable mentor for kids and teens should he get to leave prison early. ​

“Mr. Stanley will now be an asset to society because he has a great story to tell,” Streater said. ​“He will be able to speak to the youth because he’s speaking from experience. … If someone’s speaking to you and telling you they have done 33, 34 years of their life away from their family, that should be a strong deterrent.”

Streater argued that the purpose of Stanley’s sentence has already been served over the course of 33 years. ​“Keeping him locked away at this point in his life is not going to help at this point.” 

Stanley’s brother, Edward, testified in tears that most of his other family members have passed. ​“My brother’s all I’ve got,” he said. ​“I just want to apologize to the victim’s family as well. Like my brother said, he learned, he lived, and he regrets what he did. … My brother is a big asset, and I need his help out here with me because it’s just me.” He had prepared more to say, but found himself too emotional to go on.

‘His brother feels like me’

When Rodney Williams heard Edward’s words, he thought about the loss of Green, whom he called his best friend. 

“I feel for his brother,” Williams said during Friday’s hearing. Edward Stanley lost his brother to prison on the same day that Williams lost his friend’s life. ​“His brother feels how we feel, but the only difference is we can’t go talk to him,” he told the judge when it was his turn to speak, arguing against Stanley’s release. ​“His brother feel like me. I know what his brother feel like. That’s all he got. But guess what? We ain’t got nothing.”

Williams and six others who were close to Green testified or submitted letters that were read aloud at Friday’s hearing. 

They spoke to the generations of grief and trauma that Green’s murder set into motion. Green’s son, who was a toddler when Green died, lived with depression for much of his life and took his own life a few years ago. 

“This young man didn’t just kill my best friend. He killed his son too,” Williams said.

Victim’s advocate Christie Cianciola read several statements from Green’s family members.

Green was ​“funny, kind, devoted, and a sharp dresser,” described his cousin, Kim Smith. ​“Of the 12 grandkids that my grandparents had, we were the closest in age. … We talked about life and what we wanted it to look like when we got older.” He had dreams of opening a restaurant with his father.

Stanley ​“gave my family a life sentence,” wrote Green’s sister Loni, who was 8 when her brother was murdered. ​“The weight of this loss is sometimes too hard to carry. … That hurt has not eased with time.”

New Haven State’s Attorney John Doyle argued that shortened sentences should be considered on a ​“case by case” basis, ​“and I don’t believe this is a case that warrants early release. … This one? This murder? And how it occurred — it’s far too serious.”

“There is a deterrent value to certain sentences such as this,” Doyle added.

Taubes responded to this argument by reasserting that Stanley is ​“a different man” from who he was at the age of 18. ​“If he was 17 years old” at the time of the murder, Stanley ​“would already have received a parole hearing,” he said.

He argued that keeping Stanley in prison won’t change the past. ​“It’s very clear that 34 years later after this crime occurred, the pain [that family members] feel is just as palpable and real as when the crime occurred. That will be the case no matter how many years Mr. Stanley remains incarcerated,” he said.

Taubes noted that incarcerating a person for decades is expensive for the state, too. ​“After decades of incarceration, there are diminishing marginal returns to the benefits of incarceration. But there are increased carceral costs.” 

What About Those Habeas Cases?

Judge Vitale pressed Taubes and Stanley on the four unsuccessful habeas corpus lawsuits that Stanley filed over the course of several decades, contesting his incarceration as unlawful. One of the early appeals claimed that Stanley was innocent; the most recent one, which ended in 2016, argued that he had received inadequate legal representation.

Vitale insinuated that the habeas lawsuits contradicted Stanley’s claims of remorse for his crime. ​“Tell me when that acceptance of responsibility occurred,” he said. ​“My guess is that it was pretty close in time to when the commutation process and the modification process commenced.”

“I always accepted responsibility for my crime,” Stanley said. ​“I never put my habeas in saying that I didn’t do nothing. I put my habeas in for other issues. I never said in my habeas that I didn’t do it.”

Taubes later said he was ​“a little bit distressed by the judge equating the filing of these actions with not taking responsibility.” He argued that ​“a lot of times, clients don’t necessarily understand the legal system. They may not understand things their lawyers have filed on their behalf, or they may have filed things that they themselves don’t understand.”

The judge has yet to issue a decision about Stanley’s sentence.

This story was first published April 25, 2023 by New Haven Independent.