February 8, 2007
They Beat Gary So Bad‚
By BOB HERBERT
ST. ROSE, La.
Juanita Tyler lives in a neat one-story house that sits behind a glistening
magnolia tree that dominates the small front lawn.
She is 74 now and unfailingly gracious, but she admits to being tired from a
lifetime of hard work and trouble. I went to see her to talk about her son,
The Tylers are black. In 1974, when Gary was 16, he was accused of murdering
a 13-year-old white boy outside the high school that they attended in nearby
Destrehan. The boy was shot to death in the midst of turmoil over school
integration, which the local whites were resisting violently.
The case against young Tyler ˜ who was on a bus with other black students
that was attacked by about 200 whites ˜ was built on bogus evidence and
coerced testimony. But that was enough to get him convicted by an all-white
jury and sentenced to die in the electric chair. His life was spared when
the Louisiana death penalty was ruled unconstitutional, but he is serving
out a life sentence with no chance of parole in the state penitentiary at
Ms. Tyler‚s sharpest memory of the day Gary was arrested was of sitting in a
room at a sheriff‚s station, listening to deputies in the next room savagely
beating her son.
„They beat Gary so bad,‰ she said. „My poor child. I couldn‚t do nothing.
They wouldn‚t let me in there. I saw who went in there. They were like older
men. They didn‚t care that I was there. They didn‚t care who was there. They
beat Gary something awful, and I could hear him hollering and moaning. All I
could say was, ŒOh Jesus, have mercy.‚
„One of the deputies had a strap and they whipped him with that. It was
terrible. Finally, when they let me go in there, Gary was just trembling. He
was frightened to death. He was trembling and rocking back and forth. They
had kicked him all in his privates. He said, ŒMama, they kicked me. One
kicked me in the front and one kicked in the back.‚ He said that over and
„I couldn‚t believe what they had done to my baby.‰
The deputies had tried to get Gary to confess, but he wouldn‚t. Ms. Tyler
(like so many people who have looked closely at this case) was scornful of
the evidence the authorities came up with.
„It was ridiculous,‰ she said. „Where was he gonna get that big ol‚ police
gun they said he used? It was a great big ol‚ gun. And he had on those
tight-fitting clothes and nobody saw it?‰
The gun that investigators produced as the murder weapon was indeed a large,
heavy weapon ˜ a government-issued Colt .45 that had been stolen from a
firing range used by the sheriff‚s department. Deputies who saw Gary before
the shooting and those who searched him (and the rest of the black students
on the bus) immediately afterward did not see any gun.
„I don‚t know where the police got that gun from,‰ said Ms. Tyler. „But they
didn‚t get it from my son, that‚s for sure.‰
Ms. Tyler worked for many years as a domestic while raising 11 children. Her
husband, Uylos, a maintenance worker who often held three jobs at a time,
died in 1989. „He had a bad heart,‰ Ms. Tyler said.
She shifted in her chair in the living room of the small house, and was
quiet for several minutes. Then she asked, „Do you know what it‚s like to
lose a child?‰
I shook my head.
„I always felt sorry for that woman whose son was killed,‰ she said. „That
was a terrible time. I remember it clear, like it was yesterday. But what
happened was wrong. The white people, they didn‚t want no black children in
that school. So there was a lot of tension. And my son has paid a terrible
price for that.
„They didn‚t have no kind of proof against him, but they beat him bad
anyway, and then they sentenced him to the electric chair.‰
Ms. Tyler visits Gary at Angola regularly, the last time a few weeks ago.
„He‚s doing well,‰ she said. „And I‚m glad that he‚s able to cope. He tries
to help the young ones out when they come in there. He always tells me, ŒMy
dear, you have to stay strong so I can stay strong.‚ So then I just try to
hold my head up and keep on going.‰
She looked for a moment as if she was going to cry, but she didn‚t.
„It‚s just sad,‰ she said. „I wonder if he‚ll ever be able to come out. I
wonder will I live long enough to see him out.‰