Happy 65th Birthday!

In 1976, the Red Tide youth group and newspaper fought to free Gary Tyler, a Black teenager from Destrehan, Louisiana who—at age 16—had been framed, tried by an all-white jury, and sentenced to death after standing up to racist violence at his high school (see herehere, and here).

Once the youngest person on death row in America, Gary emerged after 41 1/2 years at Angola Penitentiary , so he must work until age 69 to collect even a minimum of Social Security. Your support for the project, “An Art Studio for Gary Tyler” was successful, and Gary has his first major quilt exhibition at the Library Street Collective in Detroit on July 8. Then he is back for his birthday.

Now you are invited to join us on Sunday, July 16, 2023, 1 p.m.-4 p.m., at 939 San Vicente Blvd., Santa Monica, CA, for a reunion to celebrate Gary’s 65th birthday. Tickets are available for a tax-deductible donation of $65 or more

We ask for any donations you can give, large or small, but if you are coming to the party, we ask for a minimum of $65/ticket. We will have Joe Chambers and the Ash Grove Alumni for a short concert, and some of Gary’s original supporters from the Red Tide are coming in from around the country to join us. 

These donations will support Gary, an accomplished textile artist, who reaches retirement age with few social security benefits due to four decades of wrongful imprisonment at Louisiana’s infamous Angola Penitentiary. 

Please reply to this message if you plan to attend this important event. But either way, please help honor Gary’s life by making a generous tax-deductible donation, and by forwarding this message widely to others who may be interested.

Thanks, and hope to see you soon!

Red Tide Organizing Committee

Kim Anno
Larry Bradshaw
Arnita Dobbins
Karen Hampton
Kyle Hopkins
Michael Letwin
Karen Pomer
Nancy Snyder
Lisa Abron Thomas

Once on death row, ex-inmate helps teens

Bay State Banner
By Gus Martins
June 29, 2022

High school conjures memories of gridiron football, senior prom and the start of lifelong friendships for many. Not so for 63-year-old Louisianan Gary Tyler.

In a blink of an eye in 1974, an attack by whites in the middle-class town Destrehan in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana, against bused-in black students from neighboring St. Rose turned Tyler’s young life into a helter-skelter, leaving the public school sophomore the country’s youngest-ever death row inmate.

The ensuing horror cost him 42 years of his life in the notorious Louisiana State Prison at Angola, sentenced to die for a murder he maintains he never committed. His life was spared only by a Supreme Court decision in 1976 ruling the death sentence unconstitutional.

Mercifully released in 2016, Tyler relocated to Los Angeles, where he counsels youth as a lead outreach and engagement support worker, using knowledge and wisdom that today serves also as the foundation of his guest speaking appearances.

Throughout it all, he has espoused little trace of bitterness, instead exhibiting grace and humanity while speaking on college campuses and other stages.

“I was 17 when they tried me, but I was 16 when all of this happened,’’ Tyler recounted last week in a phone interview. “That was part of their interrogation. It was like they water- boarded people in Guantanamo Bay and they got people confessing to kill Jesus Christ. But the thing is, they didn’t get any confession out of me. I didn’t have anything to confess to. I guess that’s one of the things that perplexed them. They couldn’t get me to sign any statements against anybody. They couldn’t get me to sign any statements against myself.’’

The St. Charles Parish ordeal, having its origins in the same court-enforced busing taking place in Boston at the time, occurred at the end of the day on Oct. 7, 1974. Tyler was one of a group of black students on a bus that was spontaneously attacked by an enraged anti-busing mob.

In the frenzy, a 13-year-old white student named Timothy Weber was shot dead. Another white student was injured. The murder case against Tyler rested on the statements of four witnesses, who subsequently recanted their testimonies. Even the bus driver said that no shots were fired from inside the bus.

“Believe me, it took me decades to really put a finger on the pulse of what was really going on at that time,’’ Tyler said. “Because when it happened, I really didn’t understand the racial implications of everything that was taking place. I just knew that we were bused into a neighborhood that we were not welcome. Tensions were high. I couldn’t tell you what was behind it, whether racism or other things.’’

A first search of the bus produced no weapon. All the Black students were then searched outside the bus — and again, no weapon. No one in the crowd of assailants was searched. Tyler wasn’t even a suspect at first. Police later suspiciously produced a weapon that was said to be taken earlier from a firing range and had been used by officers for practice.

The case, conducted by a regional and incestuous law enforcement police and court system, took just over a year to be tried. It ended with a conviction and death sentence for a teenager not yet old enough to legally drink liquor or vote.

In those days before CNN, internet and social media, it took deeply penetrating songs by the late Gil Scott-Heron (“Angola Louisiana”) and British reggae band UB40 (“Tyler,” sung by Alistair Campbell), to help spread the word of one of the great miscarriages of justice in the modern history of the United States.

Surviving prison

Amnesty International and the news outlet Democracy Now, in addition to a three-part series by the New York Times’ columnist Bob Herbert and various other media and rallies in cities across the country, helped to keep alive the flame of hope. Tyler’s mother, father, 10 siblings, and extended family and friends also never gave up on the goal of a new trial and seeing the conviction overturned.

Merely staying unhurt in the dangerous maximum-security prison was a major concern. But Tyler said older inmates became his protectors. In prison, he joined the drama club and participated in performances over the years, highlighting myriad social issues. Joining the Jaycees he said, helped him to shed inhibitions and become a highly-proficient speaker. He also learned knitting.

“I had no other choice than to pursue an education inside prison,’’ he said. “Because it helped me to better understand and deal with my ordeal. It helped me to better express myself and to give an effective argument against the things that weren’t true surrounding my case. You learn all of that when you are fighting for your life and fighting for what’s right.’’

Back in 1974, Tyler’s long ordeal most likely emanated from a remark he made during the search, when police asked his cousin about a chain he wore around his neck. Tyler interjected, telling the cop that “it had nothing to do with anything.’’ The old Southern taboo of a young Black male speaking out perhaps doomed him. He was apprehended, taken to the police substation, beaten mercilessly and, as it appears, subsequently framed.

“I guess due to ignorance and stubbornness, I believed in the American Dream and the American justice system,’’ he said. “As young as I was, I believed the truth would prevail. They are framing you for something that you didn’t do, they almost murdered [me] by practically beating me to death in the substation. I still believed that the system was fair. And I believed that I was going home. I was wrong.’’

At Viterbo University, a Franciscan Order institution in La Crosse, Wisconsin, Keith A. Knutson, a professor of political science in the department of ethics, culture and society, and his colleague David Gardner, have brought Tyler to their campus on two occasions. A third visit is in the planning stage. Tyler, each time, has left an indelible impression.

“He has a gift and a real human connection,” Knutson said. “And, of course, he must have had that in prison. Prisoners are human. I think that’s one of the takeaways in getting to know Gary and listening to him — his humanity. He could explain some of his own prison experiences and, of course, of unjustly being sentenced to death.’’

Tyler came to Viterbo the first time in September and spent a week there, Knutson said. 

“In addition to an address before about 700 people, he visited classrooms, a couple of churches, a criminal justice council, the local DA, several judges and two dozen other people on the committee,” Knutson said. “They sent me messages and said that his was the best conversation they’d ever had.”

Over the years, Tyler’s case reached and was approved several times by the local pardon board, but often died by the inaction of three separate Louisiana governors. Once for not yet having the GED he was working toward. In another instance, his pardon was denied four days before a governor left office. “I guess, as they say, I was a political liability for them,’’ Tyler said.

During his imprisonment, his dad Uylos, mom Juanita and some of his siblings passed away. Juanita, who died in 2012. throughout it all remained a major point of reference in his life and never let her son give up.

“I’d never say that I lost hope,’’ he said. “But I became disillusioned. I felt that the way things were going, would I ever get out? But I knew that if I just gave up would mean that I was surrendering, capitulating to a system that went out of its way to falsely convict me. So I felt in a stubborn way I couldn’t give them that satisfaction. Besides, I had a mother, and she would not take that. ‘You giving up? No!’”

His case had long been a stain on Louisiana. It took a younger, new breed of district attorney, Joel T. Chaisson, who had grown up knowing about the case, to help facilitate a way out for Tyler.

“My case at that point was a drag on the parish itself,’’ Tyler said. “You had people who felt like they want to move forward, not be stuck dealing with a relic of the past. They wanted people to believe they are progressive and changing with the time. What they did was drop my conviction all the way down to manslaughter. After all the years I served, [Chaisson] felt that it would be cumbersome to go before a parole board or put me on probation, and with the reviews he got from prison officials, that ‘this guy here is a model prisoner, he was one of the best and hasn’t given us any trouble,’ he felt he didn’t want to complicate my life like that.’’

Gary Tyler, wrongfully convicted of first-degree murder, speaks at UWL

The Racquet Press
Sophie Byrne, Social Justice Reporter
September 20, 2021

Gary Tyler was 16 years old when he was wrongfully convicted of first-degree murder, sentenced to death row, and sent to maximum-security Louisiana State Penitentiary. On Tuesday, Sept. 14, Tyler presented to a full auditorium at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Tyler described him over 41 years wrongfully imprisoned and touched on topics such as racism, rehabilitation programs for convicts, as well as what it was like to be on death row.

Tyler was introduced by Vice President of Black Student Unity (BSU) Jaiya Edwards, as well as Nicholas Bakken, a professor in the Sociology and Criminal Justice department. The talk and subsequent Q&A were additionally co-sponsored by the College of Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities; the Division of Diversity and Inclusion; Multicultural Student Organizations Leadership Programs; and the Office of Multicultural Student Services.

The audience made up of primarily students but including faculty and staff and community members, sat silently as Tyler described the events that led to his incarceration. According to a 2007 New York Times op-ed, “Mr. Tyler, a sophomore at Destrehan High, was on a bus filled with black students that was attacked on Oct. 7, 1974, by a white mob enraged over school integration. A shot was fired and a 13-year-old white boy standing outside the bus collapsed, mortally wounded. Mr. Tyler was arrested on a charge of disturbing the peace after he talked back to a sheriff’s deputy.

Although the bus and its passengers were searched and no weapon was found, Mr. Tyler was taken into custody, savagely beaten, and accused of committing the murder. A gun was found during a subsequent search of the bus and witnesses were rounded up to testify against Mr. Tyler. It turned out that the gun (which has since disappeared) had been stolen from a firing range used by officers of the sheriff’s department. All of the witnesses who pinpointed Mr. Tyler would eventually recant, saying they had been terrorized into testifying falsely by the authorities.”

Tyler recalled having hope, even after being baselessly accused and physically beaten by authorities. “After all I went through, I still believed in the criminal justice system. I was taught to believe the criminal justice system was the best system in the world, that I needed to believe. My mother, my parents believed that. The truth will come out, you will be exonerated. I believed that. When I went to court, I was confident they would find me not guilty. “

Despite outcries from his family and community, Tyler was convicted. According to Free Gary Tyler’s website, “Gary’s trial lasted five days and the jury deliberation three hours before he was found guilty of first-degree murder, in November 1975. Under Louisiana law at the time, this was an automatic death sentence. His date of execution was set for May 1, 1976. At seventeen, he was the youngest person on death row in the United States.”

With Free Gary Tyler campaigns active around the nation and multiple pending appeals, Tyler’s execution date was postponed. Soon after, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Louisiana death penalty was unconstitutional, and Tyler was spared from death—but re-sentenced to life in prison. Requests for parole, pardon, or a commuted sentence were all met with rejection.

Tyler weighed just 107 pounds and stood 4’7” tall at the time of his conviction. He recalled being awoken by screams in the first 72 hours at the prison, looking out the window to see a prisoner engulfed in flames, set alight by another prisoner.

Tyler was surrounded by convicted criminals. “Little did I know that the men who were around me had my interest at heart. When I walked into that prison, they didn’t see me as a threat. How could a small child—young enough to be your son, little brother, nephew, your friend’s son—come to prison with grown men?”

He then described how he was mentored and protected by some of these criminals, saying that they took him under their wing and taught him how to survive. “The same ones protected me and became my guardians, raised someone else’s child, and made sure he didn’t become a victim. They became my big brothers, uncles, mentors, everything.”

Tyler eventually saw a radical change in fellow inmates, recalling people who once hated him based on the color of his skin who grew to love him and, “became my best friends.”

Throughout his time in prison, Tyler pursued education. He was initially denied a request to obtain a GED based on his life sentence and told that, “it would be a waste of taxpayer money.” Tyler ended up reading all of the books he could get, joining clubs and organizations in prison, and taking any classes or rehab programs that were available. He became CPR certified, engaged in bereavement counseling training, studied graphic arts and printing, and attended paralegal school. He volunteered in the prisons’ hospice care facility for seventeen years. Most notably, he became the president of the drama club. Tyler credits drama club with empowering him to use his voice, lead, and inspire. Eventually, Tyler became well known for his ability to rehabilitate and inspire prisoners who had previously lost hope. “They grew to love me just as I grew to love them.”

According to Free Gary Tyler’s website “After enduring over four decades of incarceration, the St. Charles Parish District Attorney’s Office in Louisiana finally agreed to overturn Tyler’s conviction in 2016.

Tyler agreed to enter a guilty plea for manslaughter and received a maximum sentence of 21 years. Since he had already served more than twice that time, his sentence was overturned. Tyler was quietly released from Angola penitentiary on April 29, 2016.”

Tyler said, “we transform every day of our lives…I believe in change.” Tyler is a proponent of rehabilitation for convicts, saying “There are people that commit criminal acts, and there are people that have a propensity to commit criminal acts. You have to make that distinction…you have to ask if that person can be reformed or rehabilitated.”

For more information about Gary Tyler’s life both before and after prison, readers may visit https://www.freegarytyler.com/.

“Gary Tyler, My Neighbor” wins grand prize

Budding Filmmakers at The International School of Los Angeles Win Grand Prize in Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Video Contest

From more than 800 submissions, an entry from Ming-Wei Fasquelle ‘20 and Mwi Epalle ’20 at the International School of Los Angeles has won grand prize in the annual Speak Truth to Power Video Contest.

Los Angeles, CA, April 24, 2018 –(PR.com)– Organized by Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights in partnership with the American Federation of Teachers and the Tribeca Film Institute, the national video contest has seen over 60,000 students engage with the platform since its inception. Using their entries as a tool to discuss human rights issues, students are challenged to become champions of change and justice.

In their winning film, Gary Tyler, My Neighbor, Fasquelle and Epalle tell the story of Gary Tyler, a man who was wrongly convicted of murder and served over 40 years in prison. When asked about this accomplishment, Head of School Michael Maniska says, “We are so proud of Ming-Wei and Mwi for tackling such an intense topic in such a sophisticated manner.”

Thanks to their elegant storytelling, the duo garnered high praise from the panel of critics comprising film industry experts, actors, and educators. In her judging notes, multi-award-winning actor and respected activist Alfre Woodard shared these compliments about the film, “Simplicity. Direct storytelling – simply truthful. Powerfully rendered.”

Next stop: the students have been invited to watch as Gary Tyler, My Neighbor is screened at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 24th.

About the International School of Los Angeles:
The International School of Los Angeles is an international preschool through 12th grade bilingual school which offers an English and French curriculum. All students study a common bilingual program from preschool through 9th grade after which they have a choice between the rigorous and well-balanced French baccalauréat and International Baccalaureate Diploma programs. The Washington Post consistently lists the International School of Los Angeles as one of the nation’s most challenging private high schools. With five Los Angeles-area campuses (Burbank, Los Feliz, Orange County, Pasadena, and West Valley), and over one thousand students, the School holds triple accreditation from the French Ministry of Education, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), and the International Baccalaureate (IB). The International School of Los Angeles is committed to academic excellence in a nurturing and intimate environment that encourages personal initiative, creativity and curiosity, and to preparing students of all backgrounds to excel and contribute to a global world. Since 1978, the School has been instilling the love of learning in all its students through small classes and low student-to-teacher ratios. With over 60 nationalities and 39 spoken languages represented on the campuses, students study and live in a diverse global community every day.

Media Contact:
Emmy Ansinelli – Marketing & Communications Director
International School of Los Angeles
818-994-2961 | emmy.ansinelli@lilaschool.com | www.internationalschool.la

Mike Farrell and Gary Tyler Speak Out Against the Death Penalty

All Saints Church discussion marks ‘World Day Against The Death Penalty’

Pasadena Now
By Eddie Rivera
October 12, 2017

Justice takes many faces and many forms. For some the answer to the death penalty question is swift and sure; for others, the lines are blurred between a respect for life and a respect for the victims.

For actor Mike Farrell, self-described “social justice advocate,” it has been a decades-long battle, as an opponent of the death penalty, and an advocate for prison reform. Known mostly for his role as for his role as “BJ Hunnicutt” in “M.A.S.H.” and from NBC-TV’s “Providence,” he is the current President of the Board of Directors of Death Penalty Focus, a spokesperson for Concern America, an international refugee aid and development organization, among other organizations.

On Tuesday evening, he gathered with fellow opponents of the death penalty, along with those who have have been personally affected, for a “World Day Against The Death Penalty with Mike Farrell and Friends,” at All Saints Church, for a panel discussion about what the Church called “the harms that the death penalty inflicts on exonerees, victims families, and our society at large.”

The discussion also marked the 15th Annual “World Day Against the Death Penalty.” With the passage of Prop 66 last November, California is inching closer to the resumption of executions.

The evening featured a sobering panel discussion with Farrell, California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty Member Bethany Webb, and Death Row Exoneree Gary Tyler.

“We have determined that some human beings are not human, are not worthwhile or capable, and that we can just do away with them,” Farrell told The LA Times last year, adding, “If you set up that belief system in a society, you can justify torture, assassinations by drone, just about anything.”

The death penalty has been in place continuously in California for almost 40 years, though executions were suspended in 2006 after the current method for lethal injection was challenged in court. Following 40 years of a legal death penalty in California, executions were halted in 2006, when the lethal injection method of execution was challenged. In 2014, a federal judge ruled the system unconstitutional, but the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision in 2016, bringing California closer to performing executions again.

Also participating in the panel was Gary Webb, who, in 1975, was sentenced to death as a youth in Louisiana for a crime he didn’t commit, making him the youngest man on death row.

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. Having served 41 years in prison, Gary was released from prison in April 2016. He now lives in California and works on advocating against the death penalty and policies that support mass incarceration.

Panelist Bethany Webb, a loan officer and real estate agent who lives in Huntington Beach, lost her sister Laura Webb Elody in a 2011 mass shooting in Seal Beach.

When it came time to sentence her sister’s killer, Bethany told prosecutors at a sentencing hearing, she didn’t want the death penalty, saying, “There is no justice. Murdering someone else in my sister’s name would be defiling everything she was.” Says Webb, that although there is no doubt about the perpetrator in her sister’s case, she knows the death penalty leaves open the possibility of executing innocent people.

Gary Tyler on Maintaining Hope and Compassion in the U.S. Prison System

By Emma Niles
October 14, 2016

A life on death row is unimaginable for most people—but for almost 3,000 prisoners in the United States, it is stark reality.

Gary Tyler used to be one such prisoner, unjustly convicted and sentenced to death at age 16 for a crime he did not commit. After spending 41 years of his life at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, America’s largest maximum-security prison, Tyler was released in April.

Tyler sat down with the Truthdig team on Thursday for a live discussion on the U.S. prison system, streamed directly to our Facebook page.


Tyler recently sat for an interview with Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer for KCRW’s “Scheer Intelligence” podcast. They discussed how Tyler was able to hold on to hope during those dark decades—for himself and for the prison system itself.

“When I was in prison, I was introduced to a culture that I never thought existed,” Tyler told Scheer. “I’ll never forget that when I went to death row, they had these doors that were slamming and prisoners shouting and hollering. It was like being introduced to an insane asylum, I guess.”

During his time in prison, Tyler directed a passion play featuring other inmates as cast members. This project became the basis of the documentary “Cast the First Stone.” Tyler explains:

Of course, I was able to recruit people from all walks of life in the prison. Also, that we’re talking about some people that had disciplinary problems and I knew these guys. I knew that giving them a chance, an opportunity, I could help transform them. I like that I had opportunity to interview and audition, you understand, these guys, because I opened it up to the prison population and I was getting, if you consider the worst of the worst, and to hear these guys say, “Give me chance. Let me prove myself.” It’s like people asking society, “Give me a second chance.” So, I heard their cries and I gave them that chance. I found them to be the most committed and dedicated actors that I had in the production.

A New Way of Life Justice on Trial Film Festival Set for Sept.17-18

Los Angeles Sentinel
By Shirley Hawkins
September 14, 2016

Statistics from the Sentencing Project on Racial Disparities in the U.S.Criminal Justice System found that “one out of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime.”

One of the victims of the penal system was Gary Tyler, who was only 16-years-old when he was charged with a crime he did not commit. Sentenced to the notorious Angola maximum-security prison in West Feliciano Parish, Louisiana, Tyler languished in prison for the next 41 years.

Tyler’s ordeal began in 1974, when public schools were undergoing integration. He was sitting on a bus filled with African-American students leaving Destrehan High School in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana, when a crowd of approximately 200 began yelling out racial slurs and throwing rocks and bottles.

A shot rang out that wounded 13-year-old white class mate Timothy Weber, who later died at the local hospital.

The bus was searched and sheriffs deputies claimed they found a gun hidden between the seats (which was never recovered) and arrested Tyler for the murder.

Within a week, Tyler was tried by an all-white jury and was sentenced to death by electric chair. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Louisiana’s death penalty was unconstitutional. Instead, Tyler received life in prison.

“When they arrested me, I told them that I was innocent, but no one listened,” Tyler sadly recalls.

Even though four witnesses on the bus later recanted their testimony about the teen shooting Weber, Tyler was subsequently shipped to Angola prison, the youngest inmate ever to be incarcerated in the country.

Tyler recalls his sense of fear as the metal gates clanged shut on his jail cell. “When the prison gates shut behind me, I felt as if I was shut off from the rest of the world,” he recalled. “You knew you would not exit those gates once they were closed.”

Tyler said that Angola prison turned out to be a test of sheer survival. “Angola was the bloodiest, most infamous prison in the nation,” he said. “It was a prison of turmoil where prisoners were killing each other and committing suicide. Some prisoners were beaten to death by guards.”

For the next 40 years, Tyler’s attorneys worked diligently to prove his innocence. His case gained national attention and he was finally freed on April 29, 2016.

Tyler, now 58, said he was relieved to flee his nightmarish four-decades of incarceration and has since relocated to Pasadena, CA.

“I’m taking life day-by-day,” said Tyler, who said he has been embraced by a team of people who are helping him to adjust to civilian life.

On Saturday, Sept.17, Tyler will serve as the keynote speaker at the 2016 4th Annual “A New Way of Life Justice on Trial Film Festival” at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles on Sept. 17 and 18. He will discuss his incarceration, his feelings on prison reform and his struggle with forgiveness.

His speech will follow the showing of the gritty, eye-opening “Cast the First Stone,” a film about redemption that features Tyler.

The two-day festival will feature seven documentaries including the Oscar-nominated “Last Day of Freedom,” “South Bureau Homicide,” “The Return,” “The ‘If’ Project,” ”Out in the Night” and “They Call Us Monsters.”

Screenings will be followed by a question-and-answer session with the filmmakers. On Sunday, Sept.18 at 3 p.m., a “Power Panel” discussion will feature social justice activists, including Monique Morris, author of “Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools” and New York Attorney and lecturer Rick Jones (Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem).

The JOT Film Fest is the brainchild of New York Times best-selling author Michelle Alexander and Susan Burton, founder of A New Way of Life Re-Entry Project, a non-profit organization that assists formerly incarcerated women.

“This weekend we will review films, listen and engage in conversation around competing content with an eye toward working and pushing for justice,” said Burton. “This film festival will serve as a platform for dialogue and action.”

Tickets are $25.00 for both days and will be available on site. For ticket information, access JOTFF@anewwayoflife.org or call (323) 563-3575.

Man Once Sentenced To Death Row Works To Abolish Capital Punishment In California

By Megan Burke, Maureen Cavanaugh
Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Do you support the death penalty? It’s one of the most serious questions to confront California voters this November and one of the most divisive.

A Field Poll published in January shows 47 percent of California voters would choose to end the death penalty and replace it with life without the possibility of parole. That’s what Proposition 62 on the November ballot would do.

The same poll found 48 percent want to keep California’s death penalty and would support a new system to speed up the death penalty process. That’s what Proposition 66 would do.

KPBS is partnering with KPCC to host California Counts Town Hall: The Pros And Cons Of Repealing The Death Penalty, on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the University of San Diego’s Peace and Justice Theater. If you can’t come to the event, tune in to Midday Edition on Thursday to hear a recording of the town hall.

One man who is now speaking out in support of Proposition 62 served time on death row for a murder he did not commit.

In 1974, at the age of 16, Gary Tyler was convicted in Louisiana of the murder of a white high school student and sentenced to death. The Supreme Court overturned the state’s death penalty in 1976 but Tyler, who is African American, was left with a life sentence for a murder he has steadfastly maintained he did not commit.

Despite recommendations from parole boards and finally a declaration that his life sentence was unconstitutional, Tyler was not released from Angola prison until April, having spent almost 42 years in prison, and only after he agreed to enter a guilty plea to manslaughter.

Tyler said family, friends and supporters across the country helped him survive the time he spent in prison.

“It’s always hard for anyone having to go through an ordeal where no matter what you do to try to prove to people that you are innocent, that the system is no longer functioning,” Tyler said. “That’s a bitter pill to swallow. But if you are determined to survive, you’re able to sustain under horrendous conditions. Because you know one thing, you stand on truth and you just make the best out of a bad situation.”

Tyler, who now lives in California, spoke to Midday Edition about why he supports Proposition 62.

Listen to the interview.