Gary Tyler, a St. Rose man who has been imprisoned for 38 years and is serving a life sentence for the parish’s most infamous murder, may be eligible for a parole hearing under a law passed in the state legislature this year.
The Louisiana legislature passed the bill during the 2013 session following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 decision to strike down mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders. Gov. Bobby Jindal signed the bill into law in mid-June with an effective date of Aug. 1.
The law gives those who received mandatory life sentences without the potential for parole as juveniles a path to receive a hearing in front of a parole board. To be eligible for a hearing prisoners must have served 35 years, not have committed a disciplinary offense within a year of the parole date, completed job training or obtained a GED, completed a pre-release program and treatment for substance abuse and be granted a low-risk designation from the Department of Public Safety.
At age 16 in 1975, Tyler was convicted of the 1974 shooting death of 13-year-old Norco resident Timothy Weber at Destrehan High School, now Harry Hurst Middle School. He was tried as an adult, found guilty by an all white jury and became the youngest person on death row in Louisiana after receiving a mandatory death penalty sentence. His original sentence was commuted to mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility for parole after a 1977 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court disallowing mandatory death sentences.
Following Tyler’s conviction, numerous individuals and organizations, including Amnesty International who portrayed him as a political prisoner, have come out on his behalf calling the trial unfair and requesting his release. He was subsequently recommended for a pardon three times by the Louisiana Board of Pardons, but was denied on each occasion.
During the first pardon board hearing, five witnesses recanted their testimony and said they had been coerced by deputies to name Tyler as the shooter.
New York Times columnist Bob Herbert reported in 2007 that Larry Dabney, who was seated near Tyler on the bus, said he was intimidated and coached by deputies to name Tyler as the shooter.
Meanwhile, Weber’s family has vowed to fight against any possible release for Tyler.
His case has been memorialized in the songs “Angola, Louisiana” by Gil Scott-Heron, “Tyler” by UB40 and “Waiting for the Bus” by Chumbawumba.
During his time at Angola, all accounts of Tyler have portrayed him as a model prisoner. In the past few years he has directed two plays with cast members made up of other inmates.
Last November Tyler was allowed to attend his mother’s funeral at the Fifth African Baptist Church during which time he spoke to the crowd and did not appear shackled.
Tyler has maintained his innocence throughout his time in jail, which may hurt him if he does receive a parole board hearing.
Ella Mae Wilmore, Tyler’s older sister, said last year that she does not believe he would ever tell a parole board he is guilty even if it meant he would be freed.
“I really think he’ll stay in jail for the rest of his life before he admits that he did that if he didn’t do it,” Wilmore said.