Daryl Valentine: "When you got the police policing the police, they’re never going to change." Laura Glesby / New Haven Independent

Daryl Valentine has only recently stopped sleeping with his shoes on. For months after leaving prison, he slept ready to run.

If something happened to him, he reasoned, he wouldn’t want to call the New Haven Police Department — which allegedly framed him three decades ago for a murder he didn’t commit, a charge that assistant state’s attorneys found to be credible.

New Haven State’s Attorney John Doyle has the power to change the course of Valentine’s conviction. But he hasn’t so far — leaving Valentine in limbo, still technically in custody.

Valentine spent 32 years at Cheshire Correctional Center, convicted of perpetrating a 1991 shooting outside the Athenian Diner on Whalley Avenue at the age of 25 — a shooting that resulted in the murders of Hury Poole and Andrew Paisley, as well as the injury of Christopher Roach. Valentine always maintained that he was innocent. 

A September 2021 review of the case by Independent reporter Ko Lyn Cheang revealed flaws in his conviction. The state Board of Pardons and Paroles granted him a sentence commutation in May 2022, reducing his 100-year sentence by 57 years. He is currently serving the final year of his sentence on ​“community release.” Valentine has since been living in halfway homes under the state’s supervision. 

Though Valentine is now out of prison at the age of 56, he still bears the weight of more than three decades spent behind bars — as well as the weight of a criminal conviction for a murder he still insists he did not commit. 

His tears well, his voice tightens, when he tries to explain what it feels like to go about day to day life with what he thinks might be PTSD. ​“I’m struggling,” he said in a recent interview with the Independent. 

He wants accountability from the state: ​“You sat here and let this happen to an innocent man.”

As he waits for the last day of his sentence on May 22, he is trying every way he can to clear his name. He has filed a habeas lawsuit charging the state with detaining him unlawfully, and he’s even considering suing for a new trial for the 1991 murder. 

When the state created a new division of prosecutors tasked with reviewing allegations of wrongful convictions — the Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) — in 2021, Valentine submitted his case. 

Today, he is the only person in Connecticut to have received a public report from the CIU, helmed by Supervisory Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Valdes. (By December 2022, the unit received 131 investigation requests and closed 52 of them.) 

An early, unpublished version of the report on Valentine’s case from May 2022 issued a strong rebuke of Valentine’s conviction, citing ​“credible” evidence of witness coercion on the part of the police.

“This office believes we have identified plausible and verifiable evidence that would cause a reasonable person to lose confidence in the conviction due to issues of official misconduct and discredited eyewitness evidence,” the CIU members wrote last May.

The CIU would later walk back accusations against the police, removing the words ​“official misconduct” from that line in a September 2022 version of the report — the version that was ultimately released to the public in February.

In December 2022, the Conviction Integrity Review Panel — a committee of prosecutors unconnected to the original case, a retired judge, and a criminal defense lawyer tasked with issuing a recommendation based on the CIU report — wrote that they believed Valentine’s conviction should not be overturned.

Valentine was ​“disgusted” by this outcome, he said one April morning — but he was not surprised. ​“When you got the police policing the police, they’re never going to change,” he said. ​“I don’t trust the system.”

Top New Haven prosecutor John Doyle, who has the power to vacate Valentine’s conviction. Thomas Breen / New Haven Independent

Since the end of December, the fate of Valentine’s conviction has sat in the hands of New Haven State’s Attorney John Doyle. 

A spokesperson for the state’s Division of Criminal Justice declined to comment on questions about the case from the Independent, writing, ​“A decision in the matter of State v. Valentine is currently pending with the New Haven State’s Attorney so any public comment about the case would not be appropriate.”

The CIU’s report on Valentine’s case changed over the course of several months, as the CIU met with the Review Panel and answered questions. In June and again in August 2022, the panel asked the CIU to gather additional information about the witnesses’ proximity to the getaway car, their original police interviews, and files from the defense lawyers representing Valentine.

Alex Taubes, one of Valentine’s lawyers, has a theory about the report’s evolution. He counted 23 lines detailing police misconduct from the May 2022 report that were ultimately taken out. 

Taubes surmised that after the parole board commuted Valentine’s sentence in May, the CIU and the panel decided it would not be worth exposing internal corruption. ​“They could no longer take credit for freeing an innocent man.” 

A record of corruption — but no “lost confidence”

Just before Valentine’s first trial in 1994, two of the three witnesses central to the state’s case recanted their testimony. (The conviction coming out of that trial would later be overturned on appeal, and Valentine would be convicted again in a new trial in 1998.) 

Christina Higgins and Regina Coleman, who said they arrived at the diner after the murders took place, both claimed that detectives coerced them to name Valentine as the shooter. In sworn testimony during Valentine’s first trial, Coleman attested that Det. Joe Greene bribed her with money for cocaine, alcohol, and cigarettes; Coleman testified that when she gave her statement, Greene would periodically pause the tape and feed her information to repeat to the recording. Meanwhile, Higgins said that Greene harassed her until she agreed to testify. 

The detectives on the case were Greene, who had previously been held liable for misconduct leading to a wrongful arrest, and Anthony DiLullo, whose conduct as a detective was called into question last year during the habeas trial of Adam Carmon. 

In the May report, the CIU cited Greene’s conduct during the interview of Coleman as a reason to doubt the conviction. Referring to Greene’s concession that he ​“could have told” Regina Coleman incorrect information about the police investigation while pausing the tape recording her statement, the May report reads, ​“Greene admitted to introducing information during the stopping of the taping of Coleman’s statement that proved to be false.” In the September report, the CIU took that line out.

At the time of Valentine’s trial in 1994, prosecutor Michael Pepper argued that Higgins and Coleman were recanting their accusations only because they were afraid of retaliation for putting Valentine behind bars.

But in an investigation into the case three decades later, the CIU found Higgins and Coleman’s initial statements implicating Valentine to be ​“highly inaccurate and implausible” — and conceded that ​“there were credible allegations of witness intimidation into falsifying statements” on the part of the detectives in Valentine’s case. 

The third witness to testify against Valentine was Christopher Roach, the surviving victim of the shooting. In weeks following the shooting, Roach first declined to give a statement and then claimed he did not remember what happened. 

Two years later, however, he found himself in trouble with the law. He was extradited from Georgia to Connecticut on charges of attempted assault and reckless endangerment related to a separate shooting. It was then that he told detectives that he had recovered his memory, that Daryl Valentine was the shooter at the Athenian Diner. Afterwards, prosecutors dropped the charges against Roach.

In its May report, the Conviction Integrity Unit found Roach to ​“lack credibility,” calling him ​“a deceptive, self-serving individual who misdirected the police for years until he was extradited himself to face serious charges.” That line did not make it into the September report.

No forensic evidence tied Valentine to the crime.

After reviewing the CIU report that questioned the three eyewitnesses critical to Valentine’s conviction, the Conviction Integrity Review Panel recommended that the state’s attorney take no action on the case. 

In its decision, the panel wrote, ​“The basis of the decision was that no new relevant evidence was presented to the Panel that the jury and the Courts had not previously considered and that the Panel had not lost confidence in the conviction.” 

The panel continued: ​“Absent any such new information, the Panel concluded that it was not within the purview of the Panel to question the determinations made by the jury as reviewed by the Courts.”

The Division of Criminal Justice spokesperson did not answer a question about the panel’s power to ​“question” a jury and the court system. The CIU protocols indicate that the panel ​“shall be empowered to recommend or support all available and appropriate remedies, including recommending dismissal or expungement of the case, supporting a petition for the restoration of rights, moving for a reduction of sentence, or supporting a request for clemency, parole, or pardon when appropriate.”

John Doyle, the state’s attorney assigned to New Haven, now has a chance to act on — or override — the panel’s recommendation. When asked whether Doyle must act within a specific time frame, a matter not addressed by the CIU’s protocols, the Division of Criminal Justice did not provide an answer.

Waiting in limbo

As Valentine waits, he is somewhere between incarcerated and free. He is serving out the last days of his sentence this week.

Over the past year, he has had to live in Department of Correction-approved housing. First, he lived in a halfway house in Waterbury, where he needed written permission to leave the premises. Now, he’s in a ReEntry Assisted Community Housing (REACH) bed in Newhallville provided by the Connection, where he can’t have visitors. Valentine wanted to live with his sister, but he said he wasn’t allowed to because of her job as a traveling nurse.

At the room in Shelton Avenue where he lives now, Valentine lives in near-constant stress. ​“I hate that place. I hate it with a passion,” he said. For 32 years, Valentine lived in prison, where he says he faced ​“verbal abuse from staff” and assaults and fights from incarcerated peers. 

In his neighborhood now, ​“you hear gunshots, you hear people arguing.” Valentine said. ​“You can call it PTSD.” It’s not an unusual occurrence for sirens to blare, for police to block off a nearby street after a crime. ​“What am I supposed to do if someone comes at me?”

“Call the police?” joked Taubes, who sat next to him in a booth at Trinity Bar & Restaurant (Valentine ordered a water). They both knew that Valentine wouldn’t feel comfortable calling a police department that once appeared to have framed him for murder.

Each night, Valentine falls asleep while video-calling his girlfriend, just so they can hear each other breathe.

Valentine has had to build back the basic components of a life outside, acclimating to places that to most people might seem mundane.

Recently, while he washed his clothes at a laundromat, Valentine’s sister called. She heard his voice, Valentine said, and rushed to meet him there in person. She hugged him. Told him, ​“I got you.”

“It’s just hard. So hard,” Valentine said. ​“I got family support, overwhelming family support. But I’m still locked up.”

Though his grief over the decades he spent in prison can be overwhelming, Valentine has found some support outside of his family. He participated in Emerge, a re-entry program that employs formerly incarcerated people as tree planters and landscapers while providing wraparound services. Every Friday at Emerge, Valentine attended a mandatory group talk, where he and his peers would discuss personal experiences. ​“Emerge helped me,” Valentine said. ​“It helped me communicate, because I was very secluded.”

Now, Valentine is working as restaurant stocker in Orange, and he’s studying for his G.E.D. He’s proud of where he’s ended up in one short year. Before his conviction, he said, ​“everything I did was illegal.” And in prison, he earned up to 75 cents per hour. ​“Look at me now. I have insurance, a license. I got a job.”

“My son tells me all the time he’s proud of me,” Valentine said. He began to cry, recalling how he was first arrested when Daryl Valentine Jr. was four years old. How his son later served time in prison with him, but got out eight years ago and began building a family. His son’s family can finally see Valentine outside of the walls of a prison. They tell Valentine all the time, ​“Pop, you know we love you.”

Valentine’s community release period ends on May 22. He told his caseworker that he’s leaving the REACH bed at 12:01 a.m. He’s moving in with his sister in Hamden. 

According to Valentine, the caseworker replied that she would have to meet him at the REACH home at 8 a.m. Valentine was only half-joking when he replied, ​“I’ll meet you there.”

The morning he gets out, he’s already told his mother and sister what he wants for breakfast: French toast and grits.

Until then, Valentine remains under state supervision. He’s finally stopped wearing his sneakers all night, but he still sleeps with his clothes on — prepared at any moment to jump out of bed for somewhere safer.

This story was first published May 17, 2023 by the New Haven Independent.