Bibliography: The Case of Gary Tyler

Legal Lynching in Louisiana, The Case that Refuses to Die
The Nation, March 12, 1989.

Tyler Seeks Pardon in ’74 Shooting
The Louisiana Weekly, May 6, 1989

New Doubts in ’74 Racial Killing
Houston Chronicle, June 17, 1989

La. Black Seeks Pardon, Still Denies Racial Slaying
The Atlanta Constitution, October 24, 1989

Why is this Man in Prison?
The Guardian, December 6, 1989

Pardon Decision in Racial Slaying Expected Tomorrow in Louisiana
New York Times, December 13, 1989

In Prison For 15 Years, Louisianan May Go Free
USA, December 14, 1989

The Long Road Back
The Angolite, January/February 1990

Roemer: Tyler Not Ready for Freedom
New Orleans Times-Picayune, January 26, 1990

A Tale of the New South
(It Reads Like the Old South)

Boston Globe, February 26, 1990

Rough Justice in Louisiana:
The Nightmare of Gary Tyler

The Glasgow Herald, September 26, 1990

Falling Through the Cracks
Village Voice, January 22, 1991

Putting Our Racist Past on Trial
Washington Post, March 19, 1991

So Why is He Still in Prison?
American Lawyer, June 1991

Roemer Denies Pardons to Prominent Convicts
New Orleans Times-Picayune, January 10, 1992

Gary Tyler’s Quest for Justice

Sports figures are joining the crusade to free a Louisiana man convicted as a teenager of a murder he didn’t commit.

The Nation
By Dave Zirin
April 4, 2007

The history of the American legal system is scarred with instances of injustice: the Haymarket martyrs, Sacco and Vanzetti, the Scottsboro Boys, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Add to this list the case of Gary Tyler, convicted of murder at the age of 16. Tyler’s case was remarkable because at the time of his 1975 conviction, he was the nation’s youngest death-row inmate. The spotlight dimmed when his sentence was commuted to life without the possibility of parole in 1977, a year after the US Supreme Court declared Louisiana’s death penalty unconstitutional.

Tyler, now 48, is living out his days in Louisiana’s notorious Angola prison. A former slave plantation, Angola is home to 5,000 prisoners, 75 percent of whom are black. He has now spent years of his life behind bars because he was the wrong color in the wrong place at the wrong time.

National interest in Tyler’s case was revived by a recent series of articles by New York Times columnist Bob Herbert. In 1974 Tyler was on a school bus filled with African-American students who attended the formerly all-white Destrehan High School in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana. A white mob attacked the school bus. As Gary’s brother Terry recalled years later to journalist Adam Nossiter in a piece published in The Nation, “They were on the attack, man. It was panic.”

Witnesses at the time said someone on the bus pointed out the window and yelled, “Look at that white boy with that gun.” After several pops, a 13-year-old white student, Timothy Weber, lay wounded on the ground. Weber’s cousin, Deputy Sheriff V.J. St. Pierre, rushed the boy to the hospital, where he later died from a gunshot wound. Later, white supremacist David Duke came to Destrehan to fan the flames of racial hatred.

Herbert wrote, “That single shot in this rural town about 25 miles up the Mississippi River from New Orleans set in motion a tale of appalling injustice that has lasted to the present day.” The police came onto the bus and Tyler was dragged off. Then came the beatings. As Juanita Tyler, Gary’s mother, told Herbert, “One of the deputies had a strap and they whipped him with that. It was terrible. Finally, when they let me go in there, Gary was just trembling. He was frightened to death. He was trembling and rocking back and forth. They had kicked him all in his privates. He said, ‘Mama, they kicked me. One kicked me in the front and one kicked in the back.’

He said that over and over. I couldn’t believe what they had done to my baby.” An all-white jury found Tyler guilty of first-degree murder. Since his conviction, the four witnesses against him have recanted their testimony.

The murder weapon, as Herbert reported, had been “stolen from a firing range used by the sheriff’s deputies.” It appeared out of nowhere as the murder weapon. The gun has since magically disappeared from the evidence room.

A federal appeals court ultimately ruled that Tyler did not receive a fair trial, but justice was again denied. In an interview with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now!, Herbert explained that the court ruled that “the charge to the jury was flawed, and they said that it was flawed so badly that it clearly could have had an impact on how the jurors ruled. But they were so insistent on not having this case overturned and not having Gary Tyler freed or have a new trial that they ruled on a technicality that he did not deserve a new trial. So it’s on the record that a federal appeals court has said that his trial was fundamentally unfair.”

In 1989, Louisiana Board of Pardons (LBP) voted 3 to 2 to commute Tyler’s sentence from life to sixty years, making Tyler eligible for a speedy release from prison. But Louisiana Governor Charles “Buddy” Roemer, a Democrat facing an electoral challenge from David Duke, refused to issue a pardon. A crucial element in Roemer’s decision was the racially charged political climate: Eighteen years later, that climate has changed. And now the fight to free Gary Tyler has been reignited by a new advocacy effort, led by Tyler’s family, lawyers and activists.

Joe Allen, a member of the Free Gary Tyler steering committee, credited Bob Herbert’s columns for reviving the effort to free him. “Gary’s case is one of the great miscarriages of justice in the modern history of the US but had largely been forgotten until the recent work by Bob Herbert,” he told me. “I think think there is momentum now that makes it possible for the first time in decades to build a national campaign for his freedom.”

In addition to the Free Gary Tyler campaign, Amnesty International’s relaunched advocacy has given the Tyler case new visibility. Building on this momentum, I contacted people I know from the world of sports to ask if they would to stand with Tyler at this critical time. And they have responded.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos were part of the most dynamic moment in the history of sports and struggle when they raised their black-gloved fists at the 1968 Olympics. Lee Evans was also a gold medal winner at those Olympics and a leader of the Olympic Project for Human Rights. Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was a top-ranked boxer who spent almost twenty years in prison for a triple homicide before being exonerated after an international campaign to win his freedom. Jim “Bulldog” Bouton and Bill “Spaceman” Lee were all-star pitchers for the Yankees and Red Sox who told uncomfortable truths about both society and the game that they love. Etan Thomas plays for the NBA’s Washington Wizards and stands in the tradition of the previous generation of political athletes. Together, they and other sports figures are are asking Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco for the release of Gary Tyler. Read the statement to see how Tyler’s quest for justice has brought these and other extraordinary figures from the world of sports together.

JOCKS 4 JUSTICE

To: Gov. Kathleen Blanco

We, the undersigned members of the sports community, call upon you, in the name of justice and racial reconciliation, to pardon Gary Tyler and free him from Angola prison. Gary is an innocent man who has spent 32 of his 48 years on earth behind bars for a crime he did not commit. Gary’s life has been destroyed because of racial hysteria and that peculiar brand of police work known internationally as “Southern Justice.”

As you are undoubtedly aware, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert has spent the last month exposing the terrifying truth behind Gary’s conviction. In 1975, Gary Tyler, an African-American teenager, was convicted by an all-white jury for the murder of Timothy Weber, a thirteen-year-old white youth. Weber was shot and killed during a busing riot where 200 whites attacked Gary’s school bus. Weber’s death quite understandably sent shock waves across the state. The police needed a killer.

They chose Gary and his nightmare officially began. Gary’s mother detailed to Herbert the sounds of listening to deputies at the police station savagely whipping her son, while they blocked her from entering the room. “They beat Gary so bad,” she said. “My poor child. I couldn’t do nothing.” Every witness who identified Gary as the shooter has since recanted and alleged police intimidation. The gun supposedly used on that day has disappeared.

In the mid-1970s, Gary’s case mobilized thousands across the country for his freedom and led Amnesty International to declare him a “political prisoner.” Denied a fair trial 32 years ago, imprisoned for life for a crime he did not commit–we call upon you to free Gary Tyler now.

Rubin “Hurricane” Carter
boxer and author of The 16th Round

Tommie Smith
1968 Olympic gold medalist

John Carlos 
1968 Olympic bronze medalist

Lee Evans
Olympic gold medalist

Etan Thomas
Washington Wizards center and author of More Than an Athlete

Jim Bouton
former New York Yankee pitcher and author of Ball Four

Bill “Spaceman” Lee
former Boston Red Sox pitcher and author of The Wrong Stuff

Eddie Mustafa Muhammad
former Light Heavyweight Boxing Champion and head of Joint Action for Boxers (J.A.B.)

David Meggyesy
former NFL linebacker and retired Western Regional Director, NFL Players Association (NFLPA)

Jeff “Snowman” Monson
Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter

Toni Smith
former member of Manhattanville College Women’s Basketball team

Dr. Phil Shinnick
member of the 1964 US Olympic team

Bobbito Garcia 
co-editor of Bounce Magazine and NYC DJ

Dennis Brutus
former director of the South African Non Racialist Olympic Committee and professor emeritus of Africana Studies at the University of Pittsburgh

Doug Harris
executive director, Athletes United for Peace

Lester Rodney
sports editor, the Daily Worker, 1936-58

Rus Bradburd
former assistant basketball coach at the University of Texas El Paso and author of Paddy on the Hardwood: Journey Through Irish Hoops

Julio Pabón 
president and CEO of Latino Sports Ventures

William Gerena-Rochet
editor of LatinoSports.com

Dave Zirin
columnist for The Nation online and author of What’s My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States

Public Statement by Amnesty International

AI Index: AMR 51/026/2007 (Public)
News Service No: 029 
12 February 2007

USA: Serious miscarriage of justice in Louisiana must be rectified

Amnesty International is renewing its call to the Louisiana authorities for a pardon to be granted to Gary Tyler, a 49 year-old African-American man who has been in prison in Louisiana since the age of 17, and whose 1975 trial was infected with racial prejudice.

Tyler was convicted in 1975 of the murder of Timothy Weber, a white 13 year-old schoolboy who was shot outside Destrehan High School, St Charles Parish, during racial disturbances. Tyler had been one of many black students on a bus carrying black students back to their homes which was being attacked by white people throwing stones and bottles, and from which the shot had allegedly come. Following the shooting, all male students on the bus were searched immediately, and the bus was searched twice. No gun was found. The bus was then taken with the students to the police station, where following questioning, one female student said she had been sitting next to Tyler and had seen him fire a gun into the crowd. Following this testimony, police then found a .45 automatic gun stuffed inside a seat, through a long, visible tear in the seat. The same seat had previously been searched, shaken and turned upside down several times, and nothing had been found. Gary Tyler was detained in the police station where there is strong evidence that he was savagely beaten. He did not make any statement implicating himself in any way.

At the time of the incident, racial tensions in the area were running high as whites attempted to resist racial integration. There were frequent clashes in which the Klu Klux Klan played a leading role. Gary Tyler was tried by an all white jury from which members of the black community had been deliberately excluded. He received seriously deficient legal representation at his trial from a white lawyer who specialized in civil cases and who spent only one hour with Tyler during the whole year previous to his trial. Furthermore, he did not interview witnesses, present any expert witnesses or conduct tests on physical evidence offered by the state, and failed to object to gross errors committed by the trial judge, later found in the appeal court to have made Tylers trial fundamentally unfair. Since the trial, evidence has come to light indicating that Tyler did not shoot the victim, including witnesses who testified against Tyler at trial and later recanted, saying that they were coerced by the police to make statements against him, and questionable forensic evidence which did not clearly and definitely implicate Tyler in the murder.

Originally sentenced to death, Tylers death sentence was overturned in 1977 following a ruling by the US Supreme Court in 1976 which declared the states death penalty unconstitutional, and his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment without parole, probation, or suspension of sentence for 20 years.

In two decisions a federal appeals court ruled that Tyler had been convicted on the basis of unconstitutional charge which had infected the trial to the point of rendering it fundamentally unfair. In its first decision, the court vacated Tylers conviction and ordered a retrial. However, following an appeal by the state, the court reversed its previous decision ordering a new trial, although it did not dispute its finding of unconstitutionality, and reiterated its view that the trial had been fundamentally unfair. On at least three separate occasions the Louisiana Board of Pardons recommended to two state governors that Gary Tylers sentence should be reduced, on one occasion, making him immediately eligible for parole, but these recommendations were rejected.

If Louisianas death penalty had not been found unconstitutional, it is very likely that Gary Tyler would have been executed before now. Amnesty International is calling on Governor Blanco to rectify this shocking injustice by granting a pardon to Gary Tyler with immediate effect and by ordering a full, independent investigation into his case so that anyone found to have been involved in any cover-up or abuse is brought to justice.

For more information on Gary Tylers case and full details of Amnesty Internationals concerns, see: USA: The Case of Gary Tyler, AMR51/89/94.

Download a PDF version of this statement.

Amnesty International Report circa 1995

The Case of Gary Tyler, Louisiana 

Introduction
Gary Tyler, black, now aged 36, is serving a life prison sentence in Louisiana State Penitentiary. He was convicted in November 1975 for the murder of 13-year-old Timothy Weber, a white schoolboy who was shot during racial fighting in 1974. Tyler, who was 16 at the time of the incident, has consistently denied involvement in the crime. Since his trial, serious doubts have been raised about the evidence on which he was convicted. Nineteen years after his conviction he is again seeking a pardon.

Amnesty International is deeply concerned at evidence which suggests that a serious miscarriage of justice occurred either as a result of or exacerbated by his race and the racially charged atmosphere at the time of the events, the seriously deficient legal representation which Gary Tyler received at his trial before an all-white jury, and new evidence that has come to light over the years which suggests that Gary Tyler did not shoot the victim.

General Background
The United States Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that schools should no longer be racially segregated: in order to integrate schools black students were taken by bus from their living areas to schools in white populated areas. However, the authorities of Destrehan High School strongly resisted this policy and only in the 1960s – and as a result of a Court Order – the school finally started the process of integration. In 1974, the tensions created by the resistance of whites to desegregation resulted in frequent clashes in which the Klu Klux Klan, the white supremacist organization, played a leading role.

On 7 October 1974 students at Destrehan High School, St Charles Parish, Louisiana, were sent home earlier than usual due to racial disturbances during the day. As the buses carrying black students back to their homes were leaving the school they were attacked by a group of 100 to 200 white people throwing stones and bottles at the buses.

Timothy Weber was standing near the buses with his mother who had come to collect him. A shot was heard and he fell wounded; he died a few hours later in hospital. A man standing next to him was slightly scratched in the arm, allegedly by the same bullet.

Gary Tyler was one of the black students on the bus from which the shot was allegedly fired. This was not his regular bus but he had got into it as the situation had become increasingly dangerous. There were some 65 students on the bus, well over its normal capacity.

The police, who had been called by the school principal, ordered the bus to park around the corner. All students were ordered to get off the bus and male students were thoroughly searched immediately; girl students were searched later at the police station. The bus was searched on two different occasions for over three hours by approximately seven policemen and no gun was found. The bus was then taken to the police station along with the students. Gary Tyler was taken in a police car as he had been charged with disturbing the peace (he had complained about the police harassment of a fellow black student).

At the police station the students were questioned and released. One of them, Nathalie Blanks, stated that she had been seating next to Tyler and had seen him fire a gun into the crowd; she indicated to the police the exact place where she had been seating. It was after Blanks’ testimony that the police “found” a .45 automatic gun stuffed inside the seat, through a long, clearly visible tear in the seat. The seat had been previously searched, shaken and turned upside down several times and nothing had been found.

Gary Tyler was detained in the police station and reportedly badly beaten. However, he did not make any statement implicating himself in any way.

Charges and Trial
Gary Tyler was charged with first degree murder, a capital crime. The first degree murder charge meant that his case had to be tried in the adult criminal court rather than the juvenile court. A lesser charge, including second-degree murder, would have been tried in juvenile court given Tyler’s young age. The most severe punishment imposed would have been juvenile supervision until the age of 21 at a juvenile detention facility.

Gary Tyler was tried by an all-white jury with members of the black community deliberately excluded from the jury. The prosecution relied mainly on the testimony of one girl student, Nathalie Blanks, who was in the same bus with Tyler. She testified to having seen Gary Tyler fire the gun but after the trial she recanted her testimony. Other students who also testified against Tyler have later recanted, saying that they were coerced by the police to making the statements.

Gary Tyler was represented by a white lawyer who specialized in civil cases. He spent a total of about one hour with Gary Tyler during the whole year previous to the trial. Furthermore, he did not interview witnesses, present any expert witnesses or conduct tests on physical evidence offered by the state; he failed to object to gross errors committed at trial. His failure to object to the judge’s instructions to the jury meant that later appeals have been lost on this issue.

The forensic evidence presented by the prosecution was of questionable quality and did not clearly and definitely implicate Gary Tyler in the murder.

For example, the alleged murder weapon, a .45 automatic gun, had been allegedly stolen from a police firing range used by St Charles Parish policemen, who arrested Gary Tyler and were in charge of investigating the murder. It had no fingerprints and there was no evidence showing whether it had been recently fired. Despite a very thorough search by several policemen it had not been found until after Nathalie Blanks indicated on which seat she (and allegedly Tyler) was sitting. It was then found, hidden in a seat through a slit in the cover. However, Gary Tyler did not have a knife or any cutting instrument and none of the knives found in the bus had his fingerprints. There were no tests performed on the bullet to determine whether it was in fact the one that had killed Timothy Weber. Gary Tyler’s gloves had, until the day before the trial, been deemed by the prosecution as not having any evidence on them relevant to the charge against him. On that day however, the state informed the defence that 3-4 particles of nitrates had been found in them. The gloves had been subjected to an unreliable testing procedure which the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had not used for years. Also, the alleged particles were so scarce that there was not enough left for the defense to carry out tests.

In order to get a conviction of first degree murder the state was required to prove that Tyler had acted “with a specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm on more than one person”. The slight injury suffered by the man standing next to Timothy Weber therefore became important.

Gary Tyler was convicted and sentenced to death on 14 November 1975.

Appeals
Louisiana’s death penalty law was declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in 1976. In January 1977 the Supreme Court of Louisiana annulled the death sentence imposed on Gary Tyler as a result of this ruling. However, it affirmed his conviction for first degree murder. His death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment without eligibility for parole, probation or suspension of sentence for a period of 20 years.

As a result of a new appeal the US Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, held in June 1980 that “Tyler was convicted on the basis of an unconstitutional charge” and that his trial had been “fundamentally unfair”. The court reached this decision on a finding that the trial judge had erred when he instructed the jury to find that the defendant, Tyler, had “intended the natural and probable consequences of his act” ie to kill or inflict great bodily harm on more than one person.

After examining rulings in other cases the appeal court concluded that “the threshold issue for this court is whether the [judge’s instruction] given here so infected the trial as to render it fundamentally unfair. We conclude that it did.”

The court found that, as Tyler’s lawyer had failed to object to the judge’s erroneous instruction at the time of the trial, this error could not normally be redressed on appeal. However, they nevertheless vacated his conviction and ordered a retrial on the ground that the lawyer’s failure to object was so serious that it led to a miscarriage of justice.

The state appealed against this decision and on 27 April 1981 the US Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit reversed its previous decision. It did not dispute that the judge’s charge to the jury was unconstitutional and reiterated its view that the trial had been “fundamentally unfair” but reversed its previous decision to order a new trial on the issue of the defense lawyer’s failure to object to the judge’s instruction at the appropriate time.

The US Supreme Court subsequently declined to hear the case. [NB The US Supreme Court receives thousands of appeals each year but selects only some for consideration. Others are not reviewed by the court]

Further Proceedings In The Case
In 1989 Gary Tyler petitioned the Louisiana Board of Pardons (LBP) to be granted pardon. This was the only means by which he could have his sentence reduced to one which gave him the possibility of parole. In October 1989 the LBP heard testimony for several hours but postponed acting on the case to allow time for the state Attorney General’s office to answer questions raised about key evidence used in Tyler’s trial.

On 14 December 1989 the LBP voted 3-2 to recommend then Governor Charles Roemer to reduce Gary Tyler’s sentence from life imprisonment without parole for 20 years to a 60 year prison sentence. The reduction of the sentence would make the prisoner eligible for parole on completion of a third of the sentence, ie 20 years. This apparent contradiction comes from a Louisiana Statute which provides that no person who is serving a life sentence shall be eligible for parole unless the sentence is first reduced to a fixed number of years by the Louisiana Board of Pardons and the Governor. According to the Board, therefore, Gary Tyler will not be eligible for parole after he has served 20 years unless he has first received a pardon.

On 24 January 1990, however, Governor Roemer rejected the recommendation of the LBP. He argued that Gary Tyler had had a fair trial by all legal standards. This statement did not acknowledge the finding by the Court of Appeal in two decisions that Tyler had been “convicted on the basis of an unconstitutional charge” which had “infected the trial” to the point of rendering it “fundamentally unfair”.

He added that Tyler had not made serious efforts towards rehabilitation because he had not enrolled in educational programs while in prison (a charge Tyler strongly rejects). In May 1991 Gary Tyler passed his exams to obtain a secondary education certificate (General Education Diploma, GED). He has been very involved in the prison Drama Club and has taken a printing course in the prison; he has been offered a job in a printing company in California to be taken up on his release.

A new application for a full pardon was filed on 27 February 1991. In it Gary Tyler requested clemency “because he is innocent of the charge against him, trial was fundamentally unfair and he was denied the presumption of innocence, the Courts have refused to take action because of an error made by his trial attorney and his trial attorney was unable to remember why he made the error…”. The LBP considered the case and on 4 December 1991 it unanimously recommended to reduce Gary Tyler’s sentence to 50 years and to restore the benefit of reduction for good behaviour making him immediately elegible for parole. Governor Roemer had two alternatives open to him regarding Tyler’s case: to decide on the case (in favour or rejecting) or do nothing thus leaving the decision to his succesor, Edwin Edwards. On 13 January 1992, shortly before leaving office, Governor Roemer denied clemency to Gary Tyler. Unlike previous occasions he gave no reasons for his decision and refused to talk to the press about it.

Roemer’s denial meant that Governor Edwards could not consider Tyler’s case for one year. The rules of the LBP state that after a petition is denied the prisoner cannot re-apply until a year later. The Board would then consider the case and make a recommendation which would then go to the Governor. This process takes around a year to be completed.

In 1989 and 1991 Amnesty International wrote to the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Governor Roemer urging them to grant a pardon in the interest of justice.

Latest Developments
Gary Tyler has applied again for a pardon to the Louisiana Board of Pardons. This is his third attempt to be granted pardon. The hearing before the Board is likely to take place in late January 1995. The Board’s recommendation would go to Governor Edwin Edwards for final decision. Governor Edwards’ term of office ends in March 1995.

Gary Tyler’s original sentence included eligibility for parole after serving 20 years. However, the state of Louisiana is now contesting this issue and denying that he will be automatically eligible for parole in November 1995, when he will have served 20 years in prison. His attorneys are currently pursuing litigation on this issue.

There are still sectors in Louisiana’s society that strongly oppose the granting of a pardon to Gary Tyler but, on the other hand, his previous application elicited support from, among others, church groups, members of the City of New Orleans Council, Louisiana Senators and the National Lawyers Guild.

What You Can Do
Amnesty International believes that Gary Tyler was denied a fair trial and that racial prejudice played a major part in his prosecution. The racial and political context in which the offence and prosecution took place brings the case under Article 1(b) of Amnesty International’s statute, by which the organization seeks a fair trial for political prisoners.

Write to the Louisiana Board of Pardons: 
Pointing out that the US Court of Appeal, Fifth Circuit, held in two decisions that Gary Tyler had had a fundamentally unfair trial. However, his conviction was upheld on a technical point: that his trial lawyer had failed to present an objection at the right time (about the judge’s instruction to the jury)

Urging the Louisiana Board of Pardons to make a unanimous recommendation in favour of granting a pardon to give Governor Edwards a clear signal to go along with the Board’s recommendation

Point out that AI believes that grave doubts about his guilt remain 19 years after his conviction at the age of 16 and that the interest of justice would best be served by granting his petition for pardon.

Express sympathy for the victim and his relatives.

Write to Governor Edwin Edwards, using some of the points above:
call on him to grant a pardon to Gary Tyler, who has spent more than half his life in prison

Send copies of your letter to the US Embassy in your country

Louisiana Board of Pardons*
504 Mayflower Street
Baton Rouge, LA
70804
U S A

* Members:
Cynthia Fayard – Chair
Lynise Kennedy
Nettie Millican
John Grasso
Larry Clark

Governor Edwin Edwards
P O Box 94004
Baton Rouge, LA
70804
USA

Please note that the names of the Louisana State Officials listed above have changed since this report was issued.

A Death in Destrehan

By Bob Herbert, Op-Ed Columnist / New York Times
Destrehan, Louisiana, February 1, 2007 

On the afternoon of Oct. 7, 1974, a mob of 200 enraged whites, many of them students, closed in on a bus filled with black students that was trying to pull away from the local high school. The people in the mob were in a high-pitched frenzy. They screamed racial epithets and bombarded the bus with rocks and bottles. The students on the bus were terrified.

When a shot was heard, the kids on the bus dived for cover. But it was a 13-year-old white boy standing near the bus, not far from his mother, who toppled to the ground with a bullet wound in his head. The boy, a freshman named Timothy Weber, died a few hours later.

That single shot in this rural town about 25 miles up the Mississippi River from New Orleans set in motion a tale of appalling injustice that has lasted to the present day.

Destrehan was in turmoil in 1974 over school integration. The Supreme Court’s historic desegregation ruling was already 20 years old — time enough, the courts said, for Destrehan and the surrounding area to comply. But the Ku Klux Klan was still welcome in Destrehan in those days, and David Duke, its one-time imperial wizard, was an admired figure. White families in the region wanted no part of integration.

When black students were admitted to Destrehan High, they were greeted with taunts, various forms of humiliation and violence. Some of the black students fought back, and in the period leading up to the shooting there had been racial fights at a football game and inside the school.

While the Weber boy was being taken to a hospital, authorities ordered the black students off the bus and searched each one. The bus was also thoroughly searched. No weapon was found, and there was no evidence to indicate that the shot had come from the bus. The bus driver insisted it had not come from the bus, but from someone firing at the bus.

One of the black youngsters, a 16-year-old named Gary Tyler, was arrested for disturbing the peace after he talked back to a sheriff’s deputy — one of the few deputies in St. Charles Parish who was black. It may have been young Tyler’s impudence that doomed him. He was branded on the spot as the designated killer.

(Later, at a trial, the deputy, Nelson Coleman, was asked whose peace had been disturbed by Mr. Tyler’s comments. “Mine,” he replied.)

Matters moved amazingly fast after the shooting. Racial tension gave way to racial hysteria. A white boy had been killed and some black had to pay. Mr. Tyler, as good a black as any, was taken to a sheriff’s substation where he was beaten unmercifully amid shouted commands that he confess. He would not.

It didn’t matter. In just a little over a year he would be tried, convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to death by electrocution.

The efficiency of the process was chilling. Evidence began to miraculously appear. Investigators “found” a .45-caliber pistol. Never mind that there were no fingerprints on it and it turned out to have been stolen from a firing range used by the sheriff’s deputies. (Or that it subsequently disappeared as conveniently as it was found.) The authorities said they found the gun on the bus, despite the fact that the initial search had turned up nothing.

The authorities found witnesses who said that Mr. Tyler had been the gunman. Never mind that the main witness, a former girlfriend of Mr. Tyler’s, was a troubled youngster who had been under the care of a psychiatrist and had a history of reporting phony crimes to the police, including a false report of a kidnapping. She and every other witness who fingered Mr. Tyler would later recant, charging that they had been terrorized into testifying falsely by the police.

A sworn affidavit from Larry Dabney, who was seated by Mr. Tyler on the bus, was typical. He said his treatment by the police was the “scariest thing” he’d ever experienced. “They didn’t even ask me what I saw,” he said. “They told me flat out that I was going to be their key witness. … They told me I was going to testify that I saw Gary with a gun right after I heard the shot and that a few minutes later I had seen him hide it in a slit in the seat. That was not true. I didn’t see Gary or anybody else in that bus with a gun.”

Mr. Tyler was spared electrocution when the Supreme Court declared Louisiana’s death penalty unconstitutional. But in many ways he has in fact paid with his life. He’ll turn 50 this year in the state penitentiary at Angola, where he is serving out his sentence of life without parole for the murder of Timothy Weber.

Gary Tyler Walks Free from Angola After 41 Years Imprisoned

Democracy Now!
May 2, 2016

In Louisiana, Gary Tyler has walked free from the Angola prison after serving 41 years for a murder many believe he did not commit. Tyler, an African American, has been jailed since he was 16 years old after an all-white jury convicted him based entirely on the statements of four witnesses who later recanted their testimony. His case has been called one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in the modern history of the United States.

Gary Tyler finally released!

St Charles Herald Guide
By Anna Thibodeauz
April 29, 2016

After serving 41 years in prison for the 1974 shooting death of Timothy Weber, Gary Tyler of St. Rose pleaded guilty to manslaughter as part of a plea agreement in the decades old case and walked out of court today (April 29) a free man.

Until today’s hearing before Judge Lauren Lemmon, Tyler had maintained his innocence but told Lemmon he wanted to accept responsibility for his role in the shooting of the 13-year-old Norco resident.

“I have been incarcerated since I was 16 years old. I am now 57 years old,” Tyler said in a statement to Lemmon. “While in prison, I tried my best to live a purposeful life and to become a responsible and caring adult. I am committed to living a meaningful and purposeful life outside of prison. I hope that I will be able to help others to find the way to peaceful resolution of conflict and to show compassion for each other, for the benefit of our community, our families and the world in which we live.”

St. Charles Parish District Attorney Joel Chaisson II said Weber’s parents did not want to attend the hearing, but concurred with his plea deal.

Chaisson said the plea agreement was based on the following factors: Tyler’s willingness for the first time in more than 41 years to admit responsibility for Weber’s death; federal court finding the jury’s original guilty determination was “fundamentally unfair;” the Louisiana Parole Board voting three times to reform Tyler’s sentence from a life sentence to a term of years so he could be released from prison; Tyler’s positive accomplishments while incarcerated and Weber’s parents’ acceptance and understanding in the case that this was a reasonable resolution in the case.

At a time when the parish was embroiled in racial tension, Weber was shot on Oct. 7, 1974 on the grounds of Destrehan High School. Tyler, who was arrested and charged as an adult, was convicted of the homicide in 1975, and was sentenced to death. He spent two years on death row at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

Tyler’s death sentence was later overturned and a life sentence imposed.

In June 2013, Tyler filed a motion based on the 2012 Miller vs. Alabama decision that held mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders violated the U.S. Constitution. The 2016 Montgomery vs. Louisiana decision held that its holding Miller must be applied retroactively that required all juveniles with this life sentence to either be re-sentenced or considered for parole.

The plea agreement resolved the issues that were raised by the holdings in these two cases without requiring appellate reviews and/or pardon board hearings, which according to Chaisson, the Weber family sought to avoid.

Lemmon asked Tyler, “How do you plea?”

“Guilty,” he replied.

Lemmon accepted his plea and sentenced him to the maximum 21-year sentence for manslaughter.

“You should be released today with credit for time served,” she said. “There are no winners in this case – none,” Lemmon said. “I hope this brings some closure. The best of luck to you.”

Having served 41 years (two of them on death row), Tyler left court on Friday a free man.

Tyler expressed to the Weber family that he was “truly sorry for their loss and pain. I accept responsibility for my role in this.” He also asked for prayers for the Weber family, “and for healing in the days and weeks to come.

Chaisson praised Weber’s parents “for their determination to seek justice for their son, for their endurance in the face of years of protracted legal battles in this case, and for their acceptance and understanding that a resolution wherein this matter is finally resolved with a guilty plea is in society’s best interest.”

After more than 4 decades in prison, Gary Tyler finally free

KATC ABC TV
By CHEVEL JOHNSON
Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – After almost 42 years at Louisiana’s maximum security prison, Gary Tyler is a free man.

Tyler had been jailed at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola since he was 16, convicted of first-degree murder for the 1974 slaying of a fellow Destrehan High School student amid rising racial tensions surrounding school integration. Now 57, he was released Friday.

Norris Henderson, a counselor helping ease Tyler’s re-entry into society, says Tyler’s first reaction after walking out of Angola was relief.

Tyler’s life sentence was recently declared unconstitutional. The St. Charles Parish district attorney’s office agreed to vacate Tyler’s conviction and Tyler agreed to enter a guilty plea to manslaughter and receive the maximum sentence of 21 years. Since he had served more than twice that, he was released about 4:45 p.m.

A long time for killing

MWC News
by Michael Parenti
September 22, 2015

Today, across the nation, we witness homicidal violence delivered against unarmed people by law enforcement officers. These beatings and killings are carried out with something close to impunity. The cops almost always get away with murder. Moreover, these crimes are nothing new; they are longstanding in practice.

A study of police brutality in three major cities—conducted just about half a century ago in 1967—found that all the victims had one thing in common: they were from low-income groups. Other studies however showed that it often was enough just to be Black, even if middle class.

Take the case of Carl Newland, an African-American, 48-year-old accountant who happened to be walking by a newsstand that had just been robbed one evening in 1975. He was roughed up by the police, then brought before the newsstand clerk, who emphatically denied that Newland was the stickup man. Nevertheless, because of his “belligerent attitude” he was taken to jail and severely beaten by the police, according to statements by several prisoners. He died in his cell that same night. Consider some other cases.

About a half century ago, a Black man was forced to lie face down in a Detroit motel and a policeman cold-bloodedly pumped a bullet into his head.

–At about that same time, a 10-year-old Black boy walking with his foster father in Queens, New York, was killed by a plainclothes policeman who leaped from his unmarked car, firing away without identifying himself, shouting “Hey niggers!”

–A White “hippie” (as counterculture people were called in the late 1960s and 1970s ), finding his home suddenly surrounded by unidentified, armed men in Humboldt County, California, fled in terror out the back door only to be shot dead by county police and narcotic agents surrounding his house, the wrong house. Raiding the wrong house and shooting its frightened inhabitants became a regular pastime decades ago. “Fighting crime” and “fighting the drug war” were the call of the day.

–A 12-year-old Chicano boy in Dallas, arrested as a burglary suspect, was shot through his head by a cop.

–A Black shell-shocked Vietnam veteran was killed by two police on a Houston street as he reached into his pocket to take out a Bible.

–In Champaign, Illinois, in 1970, a frightened African American bookstore employee attempted flight when police menacingly approached his car. He was shot in the back. The culpable officer was indicted for voluntary manslaughter, released on a $5,000 bond and soon found “not guilty” by an all-White, middle-American jury.

–In Cambridge, Massachusetts, an Italian-American, working-class youth was beaten to death by cops in a police van.

–A New York policeman shot a 22-year-old Black college student who was standing with his hands in the air. Then the cop planted a toy pistol next to the victim’s body.

–A Chicano youth in Houston was taken to a secluded spot by cops, beaten until unconscious, then thrown into a bayou to drown.

–A Black youth, who was attempting to retrieve a basketball in a schoolyard, was shot through the head by Chicago police. One could go on and on with stories from years past about how the courageous Thin Blue Line repeatedly saved us with their endless killings.

Today, sparked by body-cam videos and social media, people are giving more attention to eye-witness accounts of such frightful events. Our Boys in Blue are being challenged by groups such as Black Lives Matter. But let us not overlook the many who were victimized by police during the late 1960s and 1970s and who are still with us, not merely in memory but in actuality. That is to say, a substantial number of those unjustly convicted long-ago are still in prison today. We all can name some of them: Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier, Herman Bell, Janine Africa, Hugo Pinell, and others. Consider also the lesser known cases. One that I have in mind is Gary Tyler.

In 1974 in Louisiana, a bus carrying Black children was attacked by a mob of Whites, some of whom were armed. According to the bus driver, a gun was fired from the attacking crowd. The shot missed the bus but killed a White youth in the surrounding crowd. The police arrived and forced the Black students out of the bus and to their knees. One of them, Gary Tyler (16-years-old at the time) was arrested for “interfering with an officer.” What he actually did was voice his objection to the deputy sheriff’s putting a gun to the heads of kneeling Black students.

The police claimed they found a gun on the bus but it curiously turned out to be a police revolver with no fingerprints. Nevertheless Gary was charged with being the possessor of the gun and murderer of the White youth. He was convicted by an all-White jury and sentenced to die in the electric chair.

The prosecution’s case rested entirely on two witnesses, both of whom recanted their testimony. Both charged that police had coerced them into fingering Tyler. The police had threatened to take one witness’ child away from her and charge her as an accessory to the killing. In any case, the judge refused to grant a new trial. Gary ended up with a life sentence and no chance of parole.

This 16-year old student, Gary Tyler, had attempted to calm a snarling officer who was uttering threats while pointing his loaded weapon at the heads of Black school children. Gary could sense the rage emitting from the trigger-happy cops. Over the years many of us have confronted police in one or another such situation. Nowadays we get numerous same-day recordings of “cops gone wild” with pile-on beatings and shootings of unarmed civilians. On each occasion the local police department announces, “The incident is under investigation.” The killer cop usually is given “administrative leave with pay,” or what some of us would call “paid vacation.”

The police tell us that the victim was reaching for his waist ban or was holding a cellphone in his hand that looked like a gun—certainly enough like a gun to perforate him with a deluge of bullets. The public hears the cop’s familiar story. When attorneys and media ask for more information, what we get is what the police department decides they want us to see. Before too long, the accused cop is kindly stroked by a White, suburban Grand Jury and an obligingly soft-handed prosecutor who has his own eye on a more elevated juridical or political office, and who therefore does not want to offend his war-against-crime White constituency.

Gary Tyler is now 57 years old. He has been in prison since he was 16. He will likely remain incarcerated for the rest of his life unless the numerous pleas from around the country and from countries around the world should start having some impact.

There are scores of prisoners of political note, and hundreds of others like Gary who were just in the wrong place or just speaking up against the potentially lethal behavior of police. They continue to be victimized by a law enforcement system capable of the most venal acts both within the community and in the courtroom, taking away whole lifetimes of innocent people by use of street executions or judicial killings or perpetual incarcerations—an abuse of justice that is beyond measure.

Michael Parenti’s most recent books are Waiting for Yesterday: Pages from a Street Kid’s Life (an ethnic memoir); and Profit Pathology and Other Indecencies.