Reprinted from Truthdig
On his KCRW show "Scheer Intelligence," Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer spoke with Gary Tyler, who served over 40 years in prison after being wrongly convicted as a teenager of murdering a 13-year-old boy in 1974.
After being on death row twice during his sentence, Tyler was finally freed this spring. Before his release, he directed a passion play cast only with prisoners from Angola penitentiary in Louisiana, where he was incarcerated. The experience was made into the documentary "Cast the First Stone."
Tyler tells Scheer how the play forever changed him and the cast of prisoners, how he maintained hope over the years that he would eventually gain his freedom, and how a group of seasoned inmates helped him survive in prison.
--Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly
Robert Scheer: Hello, it's Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, my weekly podcast with KCRW. The intelligence comes from our guests and today our guest is Gary Tyler, a remarkable person who got swept up in a series of events when he was 16 years old. Attempt to integrate schools in Louisiana and the viscous white resistance to it and in the process of a turmoil one such day, a young man was shot and they hunted to see who did it and despite the available evidence, they picked on Gary Tyler, a 16 year old.
Tried as an adult, denied legal competence, this was all determined by courts later, and yet, was on death row for two years in Louisiana and through a series of court decisions invalidating -- the Supreme Court -- Invalidating the death penalty, he ended up serving life without possibility of parole.
However, this last April, was finally paroled after 41 and a half years in Angola Penitentiary, one of the largest and fearsome prisons in the United States, if not the world. Welcome, Gary Tyler. Let's begin with the 16 year old who's blamed and fingered for murder and convicted and looking at electrocution.
Gary Tyler: Thank you, Bob. On October the 7th, 1974, I was a 16 year old juvenile and that morning, there was a rumor that there was going to be an altercation blacks and white students at the school. I was earlier suspended after I departed from the bus and I was suspended three days and I left. Later I was brought back to the school by one of the deputies that felt that I was not only truant but also suspect of being one of the perpetrators that was involved in a racial conflict at Destrehan High School at the time. When he brought me back to school and found out that I was not the one that the principals and everything felt that was part of the incident, I was immediately ordered to depart from his vehicle.
Upon doing so, a decision was made between myself and the guy that I was with to catch a ride on the school buses that was going back to the community. At that time, they was ushering people on the bus, not the exact bus that was going directly to their community. We was put on a school bus and as we departed from the school, there was a shot. Many on the bus panicked feeling as though they were being shot at. Of course, the bus driver stopped. Later, he was told to park the bus on a side road and when he did that, that's when everybody was being pulled off the school bus and was searched.
Little did we know at the time, that someone was shot and we just felt that during the time of the heyday of the racial integration at the schools that it was just one of those things that routinely that we were being harassed that we were being discouraged from going to school.
When I look -- we were being deported and ordered to go in a vacant parking lot and I, of course, along with the other students, we were basically gathered in that general area. I saw my cousin, he was being harassed and pulled aside. I wanted to know what was happening and he told me that they was arresting him for having a .22 bullet around his neck. I protested. The deputy told me to come back across the ditch. As I was attempting to do so, that's when I was stopped by another police officer. I protested and one thing led to another and I was arrested for disturbing the peace and interfering in police officer's duty.
After everything cleared up at the school, that's when I was, you could say, transported to the substation. They went to asking questions. When I didn't have the answer, then that's when they went to beating on me and like I said, for about two to three hours. I was beaten by several police officers in the substation until my mother intervened because she heard the beating in the room. She demanded that she see somebody. When they tried to transfer me to another room, then that's when she saw what happened. I called out and told her that they was accusing me of doing something about a murder. Little did I know at the time, that someone had gotten shot. Everyone at the time was a suspect, but little did I know, later on I was the prime suspect behind it. They transported me and they charged me with first-degree murder of a 13 year old white kid at the school.
Scheer: As the facts emerged, first of all, you were very poorly defended and the courts were critical of that eventually ...