USA: 'an opportunity for justice' for Gary Tyler
Amnesty International supporters are urgently appealing to authorities in Louisiana to pardon a 49-year-old African American man who has already spent more than 33 years in a state prison after being convicted of murder in a fundamentally flawed and unfair trial.
Gary Tyler, who is being held in Louisiana’s Angola prison, was just 16 years old when he was convicted of the murder of Timothy Weber, a white 13-year old schoolboy who was shot outside Destrehan High School, Louisiana in 1974.
The shot had allegedly come from a bus carrying black students which was under attack by white people throwing stones and bottles.
The attack took place at a time when black students were being transported to a formerly all-white high school. At the time, the attempt at racial integration was intensely opposed by the white community.
Gary Tyler was charged with the shooting based primarily on the testimony of one student and the alleged murder weapon which police found in the seat where he had been sitting, having failed to find the weapon during an earlier search.
Amnesty International UK’s Director, Kate Allen said:
“Gary Tyler’s trial was fundamentally flawed and set during a particularly racially-charged time in Louisiana. Although he was only 16 at the time, Gary Tyler was tried as an adult.
“In spite of the heightened tension in the area, there was no change of trial venue and Gary was tried by an all-white jury from which members of the black community had been excluded.
“Gary’s lawyer failed to prepare for the trial and didn’t interview witnesses or conduct tests on the physical evidence offered by the state. In the fact the lawyer spent a total of about one hour with Gary Tyler in the whole year prior to the trial.
“In addition, the judge instructed the jury wrongly that Tyler had to prove himself innocent of an essential element of the case.”
Gary was convicted of first-degree murder and was originally sentenced to death; his sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment when the state's death penalty statute was ruled unconstitutional. He served the first nine years of his sentence in 23-hour a day lock-down in solitary confinement.
After being transferred to the prison's general population, Gary achieved his General Educational Certificate and trained in construction.
Kate Allen continued:
“Gary’s already served more than three times as long as the national US average for a person convicted of murder. He’s always maintained his innocence and has had an exemplary record while in prison.”
A petition was sent to the Louisiana Pardon Board to request that they provide a definite term of years so that the outgoing state governor can authorise Gary’s release before she leaves office in January next year.
Kate Allen continued:
“Gary Tyler’s already paid far too heavy a price by being imprisoned for 33 years after a flawed trial. There’s now a real opportunity for justice which Louisiana authorities must seize.”
Gary Tyler was the subject of an early song by UK reggae band, UB40. Referred to as Tyler, his case is recounted in the song, ‘Signing off’.
As a life sentenced prisoner Gary Tyler cannot be granted release on parole unless his sentence is first commuted to a term of years by the Pardon Board and the Board's recommendation is accepted by the Governor.
Gary has been active for more than 20 years in the Angola prison drama club where he has written and performed in plays for Children's rights. He also works as a volunteer in the Angola prison hospice. He worked for over a year as part of a small team of volunteer prisoners assisting in the clean-up of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
High-ranking staff at Angola have reportedly endorsed his latest application for a pardon on the ground that he has matured into a responsible citizen deserving of release. However, to date his name has not yet appeared on the parole board's docket for a hearing, and it is feared that, without further pressure, he may miss the chance to be heard before the governor leaves office.
Take action now - Demand justice for Gary Tyler