Gary Tyler

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Gary Tyler
Born July 1958 (age 57)
Ethnicity African American
Citizenship  United States
Criminal charge First degree murder
Criminal penalty Death, commuted to life sentence without parole in 1977
Criminal status Released April 29, 2016

Gary Tyler (born July 1958) from St. Rose, Louisiana is a former prisoner in Louisiana. He was imprisoned from 1975 until April 29, 2016 having been convicted aged 17 of the 1974 shooting death of a 13-year-old white boy. Originally sentenced to death, Tyler was the youngest prisoner on death row.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled the trial was "fundamentally unfair". Tyler's cause has been taken up by human rights organizations, as well as many other supporters, including a range of sports figures and organizations in 2007.


In 1974 formerly all-white Destrehan High School had been full of tensions as it reluctantly integrated, 20 years after the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education. Because of fights, officials closed the school early during the day of the events.

Black students were sent home on their regular bus. Tyler was 16 and on the bus. As they were leaving Destrehan High School, the bus was attacked by an angry mob of 100-200 whites, mostly students. The whites were angry about integration and tensions at the school.[1] Timothy Weber, a 13-year-old boy standing outside the bus near his mother, was shot and fatally wounded. He later died. Police searched the bus, but no gun was ever found.

Tyler was arrested and charged with the murder of 13-year-old Weber. His mother Juanita Tyler has said that he was beaten by the police in an attempt to make him confess. Other witnesses later told of being intimidated by the police.

The racially charged atmosphere was heightened with the arrival in Destrehan of David Duke, who was emerging as a leader in the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi politics in the United States. He brought what he called security teams to protect white residents.


Tyler was tried as an adult and convicted at trial in 1975 by an all-white jury in a Louisiana state court. Observers thought the case was marked by several flaws and alleged lack of experience of his lawyer. As Bob Herbert wrote in 2007 in The New York Times, the lawyer "had never handled a murder case, much less a death penalty case. He kept his meetings with his client to a minimum and would later complain about the money he was paid."[2]

At the trial, the police produced a gun they claimed to have found on the bus. But, in the decades following the conviction, the gun disappeared from the evidence room.

Under Louisiana law, since it was a capital case, after conviction Tyler was sentenced to death by electrocution. He became the youngest inmate on death row when he entered prison.

In 1977, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Louisiana's death penalty was unconstitutional. Tyler's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment without parole. He served his sentence at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.

Having served 41 years (two of them on death row), Tyler was freed on April 29, 2016.[3]


Tyler's case was appealed. In 1980 and 1981 the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled the trial was "fundamentally unfair" and flawed by the judge making an improper charge to the jury. The second time, after an appeal by the state, the Appeals Court reversed its earlier ruling and called for a retrial, based on what it said was attorney error, but changed its recommendation on a technical issue.

In 1989 the Louisiana Board of Appeals recommended a pardon, but Governor Charles "Buddy" Roemer, a Democrat, was running against David Duke for election, and refused to consider it in a racially charged election. He feared such a decision would not be favored by voters.[4]

Human-rights organisations have argued that the legal process and procedures were flawed by the racially charged atmosphere and police intimidation.[5] Due to the racial and political issues of the time, in 1994 Amnesty International described Tyler as a "political prisoner". [1]

In 2007 Bob Herbert of The New York Times wrote three columns about the case and the injustice against Tyler. His work helped raise the visibility of Tyler's plight, and Amnesty International, a coalition of sports figures, and other groups made a renewed effort to gain a pardon by Gov. Kathleen Blanco before she left office. She failed to consider the case. Tyler by then had served 32 years in prison.

Tyler's supporters have claimed that there was a miscarriage of justice in his case. Some of the issues include:

  • The bus driver has insisted that he believes the shot was fired from outside of the bus. [6]
  • The bus driver observed the search of the bus, and said that no gun was found on it.[6]
  • The gun which the police claim was used in the murder (and produced as evidence at the trial), was a Colt .45 government-issue, identified as having been stolen from the firing range used by the officers of the sheriff's department. The gun later disappeared from the evidence room.[7]
  • The jury for Tyler's trial was all white.
  • The 1981 US Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, ruled that the trial was "fundamentally unfair", flawed by the judge's improper charge to the jury.[2]
  • Four major witnesses against Tyler have recanted their testimony since the trial. Some claimed they were terrorized and pressured by police.[7]
  • Based on Tyler's positive work in prison, the Louisiana Board of Pardons three times recommended his being freed. Governors failed to act on his case or rejected pardons, once during an election campaign against David Duke.[2]

Popular culture[edit]

  • Gil Scott-Heron sang about Tyler in the song "Angola, Louisiana," on the 1978 album Secrets.
  • British reggae band UB40 opened their 1980 debut album, Signing Off with the song "Tyler". The song name-checks the subject only as "Tyler". Ali Campbell said in an interview in August 2007 that the next UB40 album would be named Gary Tyler; in fact, the band's next album, in 2008, was titled TwentyFourSeven, but did revisit the subject of Tyler's imprisonment on the song "Rainbow Nation".
  • The British band Chumbawamba included the song "Waiting for the Bus" on their 2008 album The Boy Bands Have Won. The song tells the story from the imagined view of Tyler.


  1. ^ a b Joe Allen, "Free Gary Tyler", Counterpunch, 26/27 Aug 2006, accessed 16 Jul 2008
  2. ^ a b c Bob Herbert, "Gary Tyler's Lost Decades", reprinted by permission of New York Times, 5 Feb 2007, accessed 16 Jul 2008
  3. ^ "After more than 4 decades in prison, Gary Tyler finally free". Retrieved 30 April 2016. 
  4. ^ Dave Zirin, "Gary Tyler's Quest for Justice", The Nation, 21 Mar 2007, accessed 16 Jul 2008
  5. ^ Joe Allen: Free Gary Tyler
  6. ^ a b "The Case of Gary Tyler: Despite Witness Recantations and No Physical Evidence, Louisiana Prisoner Remains Jailed After 32 Years". Democracy Now!. Retrieved 30 April 2016. 
  7. ^ a b Bob Herbert, "A Death in Destrehan", reprinted by permission of New York Times, 1 Feb 2007, accessed 16 Jul 2008

External links[edit]