Moms of 2 teens killed in DUI crash support defendant at sentencing

It was an emotional hearing in Stamford Superior Court, where even the judge got choked up after the victims’ mothers spoke in support of the defendant, Jerry Diaz, 22.

Marissa Alter

Jun 6, 2023, 11:52 PM

Updated 319 days ago


A young man from Stamford was sentenced to 10 years in prison Tuesday for a deadly DUI crash that killed two of his teenage friends. It was an emotional hearing in Stamford Superior Court, where even the judge got choked up after the victims’ mothers spoke in support of the defendant, Jerry Diaz, 22.
“I have no malice or hate in my heart for Jerry, you know. But I just hope that he can get the help and have the support that I have had through all of this,” said Kelly Johnson through tears. Johnson told the court she knows Diaz was friends with her son, Kymani Pollack, and never intended to kill him on Aug. 26, 2019.
Stamford police said Diaz, who was 18 years old at the time, was drunk and speeding with five other teens in the car when he crashed into two utility poles on Canal Street. Pollack and NiShawn Tolliver died while the three other passengers were seriously hurt.
In court, Johnson told the judge Diaz is still a young kid whose future shouldn’t be thrown away.
“We lost two lives, and I would hate for him, for his life…” Johnson said, trailing off. Attorney David Cohen, who was there with Johnson, continued on for her. Cohen explained she wants Diaz to take advantage of all the programs he can in prison to better himself so he has the opportunity to “make his life one of contribution because two other young men will never have the opportunity to do that.”
Tolliver’s mother, Shanika Mitchell, hadn’t planned on speaking at the sentencing but did address the court.
“I just want him to get the help that he needs. I also don't have hate in my blood because I know they were also friends,” Mitchell said.
In April, Diaz pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter, two counts of assault with a motor vehicle and driving under the influence. He also pleaded guilty to carrying a pistol without a permit, a charge he faced in another case.
Tuesday afternoon, Diaz addressed the victims’ families.
“I want to apologize. Nothing I say can bring them back. Hopefully one day, I could do what I could,” he said.
Diaz's attorney, Jessica Kordes, said the compassion the victims’ families have shown for Diaz has had a profound impact on him.
“When I got involved in this case 3 ½ years ago, the version of Mr. Diaz that I met was lost. He hated himself. He had substance abuse issues. He was angry about the outcome of his accident. He had given up—not only on himself, but he couldn't forgive himself,” Kordas said. “I can tell you the person who stands before the court today, and the person I've had many conversations with within DOC is a different person.”
Kordas said while in custody, Diaz has gotten his high school diploma, taken substance abuse classes and grief glasses, and participated in every program he could to put himself on a better path in the future.
“I think he certainly wants to do better because of this experience and to pay respect in a certain way to the children and the families that he's harmed,” Kordas told the court.
Judge Bruce Hudock was visibly moved by what he heard in the courtroom. Before handing down the sentence, Hudock told Diaz, “Remember this day for the rest of your life. Mothers of sons who are no longer alive spoke on your behalf. For a guy who's been around the block as I have, that's probably, probably the first time that's happened.”
Hudock said he wants Diaz to remember what he did every day and to commit to sobriety every day. “You need to dedicate the rest of your life to the lives that are no longer here,” he told Diaz.
Hudock sentenced Diaz to 20 years in prison, suspended after 10 years served and five years of probation.
The judge ended the hearing by addressing Johnson and Mitchell. “I want to thank the moms. Thank you. I've never seen anything like it. You're beautiful people,” Hudock said.

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