Gary Tyler was sentenced to death and spent 41 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
Gary grew up in Louisiana during a time of racial backlash. One day, as his school bus passed by demonstrators throwing rocks, a shot was fired, killing a 13-year-old named Timothy Weber. The police questioned all of the black students on the bus, and, though witnesses say Gary was beaten, he refused to confess. Based on virtually no evidence–a gun prosecutors claimed was the murder weapon mysteriously appeared and disappeared during the trial–he was arrested and charged as an adult with first-degree murder. He was then found guilty by an all-white jury and sentenced to death in 1975. He was the youngest inmate on death row.
In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court found Louisiana’s death penalty law unconstitutional, and ordered the state to commute its death sentences to life without parole. Gary’s sentence was commuted to a life without parole, and he was transferred to the general prison population, where he led several rehabilitation initiatives over the next four decades. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to sentence minors to life without parole and applied its decision retroactively. Offered a plea-bargain by prosecutors in order to avoid another trial, Gary agreed to plead “guilty” to manslaughter in exchange for his freedom, and subsequently was sentenced to 21 years. Having already served 41 years, Gary was released from prison in April 2016, and has since moved to California where he now continues his work by advocating against the death penalty and policies that support mass incarceration.
Gary is available to speak in Southern California, particularly around the Los Angeles area.