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 working with Tyler to help ease his re-entry into society, said Tyler’s first reaction after walking out of Angola was relief.
“For lack of a better word,” Henderson said in a telephone interview. “He said it felt as if a burden had been lifted. He went in there when he was a child, at 16. He’s coming out as an adult and that’s going to be challenging.”
On Oct. 7, 1974, Tyler was aboard a bus filled with African-American students leaving the school. As it passed a crowd of between 100 and 200 white students and adults, some in the crowd yelled slurs and threw bottles and rocks at the buses. As Tyler’s bus passed, a shot rang out and 13-year-old Timothy Weber was hit and later died at a hospital. A search by sheriff’s deputies of the students and the bus failed to turn up a weapon; a later search found a large pistol in one of the bus seats.
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 already served more than twice that, Tyler was released from prison about 4:45 p.m.
“It is long past time for Gary Tyler to come home,” said Tyler’s defense team, headed by attorney George H. Kendall, in a statement. “Hopefully this agreement will help to put this case to rest for Gary, the loved ones of Tim Weber and St. Charles Parish.”
Mary Howell, who represented Tyler and successfully obtained three Louisiana Pardon Board recommendations that his sentence be reduced, said, “This has been a long and difficult journey for all concerned. I feel confident that Gary will continue the important work he began years ago while in prison, to make a real difference in helping to mentor young people faced with difficult challenges in their lives.”
In court earlier Friday, Tyler expressed to the Weber family his sorrow for their loss and pain. “I accept responsibility for my role in this. I ask for prayers for the Weber family and for my family, and for healing in the days and weeks to come.
“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. Thank you.”
Henderson said Tyler, who has a sister, tentatively plans to stay in Louisiana before moving out-of-state. He wouldn’t say where, citing a need to give Tyler time to soak in the fact that he’s free.
“This is all new for him. Let’s just give him a few minutes to breathe,” Henderson said.