Man wrongly convicted of first-degree murder to speak at Viterbo

Gary Tyler, who was wrongly convicted of first-degree murder at the age of 17 and spent 41 years in Louisiana State Penitentiary, better known as Angola, will speak at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 16 in Viterbo University Fine Arts Center Main Theatre.

The event is free and open to the public. It is being held at Viterbo in recognition of Constitution Day. Tyler spoke at Viterbo in 2018 to great acclaim from students and community members. A mask requirement is in effect at Viterbo and all audience members must wear a mask.

Tyler, an African-American, was 16 years old in 1974 when he was charged with the murder of a fellow student, who was white. He was quickly tried and convicted under dubious circumstances in a racially charged environment and was sentenced to death in the electric chair. He was the youngest inmate in history to be incarcerated on death row. Louisiana’s death penalty was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976, and Tyler’s sentence was changed to life in prison.

Despite the work of lawyers, activists, and celebrities to free him, Tyler would spend the next 40 years in one of the nation’s bloodiest and violent prisons, where he would witness horrible brutality. Fortunately, he was protected by a group of older inmates who saved him from harm. Tyler was a model prisoner, earning his GED, mentoring other inmates, and volunteering in the prison’s hospice care facility. In 1981, a federal appeals court stipulated that Tyler was “denied a fundamentally fair trial,” but refused to order a new trial.

Tyler finally gained his freedom in 2016 when the Louisiana St. Charles Parish District Attorney’s Office agreed to overturn his murder conviction. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter, and had already served more than twice the maximum sentence for that crime.

Throughout it all, Tyler maintained his innocence.

Today, Tyler lives in Venice, Calif. where he works at Safe Place for Youth helping to get homeless youth off the streets.

He also shares his story through speaking engagements. He is not bitter and concentrates every day on enjoying his freedom.

“I left prison rich in spirit and ready to embrace life,” he said. “I am happy to have the opportunity to live a life that was denied to me for four decades.”

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