The Heartbreaking Story Of A Harmless Deadhead Sentenced To Die In Prison

Timothy Tyler

Timothy Tyler was 25 when he was sentenced to die in prison.

Tyler, a Grateful Dead fan with no history of violence, got life without the possibility of parole for selling LSD to a police informant.

He’d never gone to prison before.

But a judge was forced to give him life because of two prior drug convictions — even though both those convictions resulted in probation.

At 45, Tyler has been in prison for more than 20 years and will likely spend the rest of his life there. He got the same life sentence as rapist and kidnapper Ariel Castro because of federal mandatory minimum sententence guidelines.

‘Three strikes and you’re out’ no matter the charge

Congress enacted mandatory minimums — also known as “three strikes and you’re out” laws — in response to the 1980s crack epidemic, and many states followed suit with similar laws. These laws force judges to impose strict sentences based on the amount of drugs sold without regard for mitigating factors like drug addiction.

Tyler, for his part, had a history of psychosis and bipolar disorder. He did break the law, though. He sold acid to friends for less than dollar a hit at Grateful Dead concerts, where he also sold fried dough, and he was arrested twice for drug offenses. Then he got arrested a third time after selling larger quantities of the drug to a friend who turned out to be an informant.

“I wouldn’t do it again,” Tyler told Business Insider on the phone from the federal prison in Waymart, Penn. “I wouldn’t have done it if I had known I could have gotten this kind of time.”

To be clear, Tyler got busted for selling a lot of acid — 13,045 hits, according to a pre-sentence memorandum. But that memo doesn’t make him and the guys he got busted with look like career criminals, either.

Tyler only netted about $3,000 from “a very loosely woven conspiracy” that involved selling acid to “friends, family and business acquaintances,” according to the memo prepared by his probation officer. He also made the government’s job easier by pleading guilty.

“He explained to the probation officer that he is psychotic,” the memo read, “and that his condition is complicated by his substance abuse problems.” Under the section of the memo titled “Victim Impact,” it read, “There is no specifically identifiable victim.”

A history of abuse

Tyler is not the only casualty of mandatory minimum sentences, but his case has always troubled Julie Stewart, the president and founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

She’s known about Tyler since he was sentenced in 1994.

“He was a kid. He was following the Grateful Dead. I’m not condoning it, but it was a pretty harmless lifestyle Timothy was leading,” Stewart told me. “It always seemed really absurd to me that this non-violent guy who was 24 years old, that the government could write off his life. Bingo. You’re gone.”

Tyler grew up in Terryville and Wolcott, Conn., with his single mother and his sister Carrie, who’s 11 months younger and still considers him her best friend. Their mother, Lura Morris, worked as a waitress and later went to the University of Connecticut and became a social worker.

The kids were happy when they were small, but life got difficult after Morris married a man named Sal when Tyler was about 7. Sal stayed home with the kids while Morris worked full-time. Morris told me in an email message she noticed mania (hyper, impulsive behavior) and depression in both Timothy and his sister Carrie when they were kids. She found out later her then-husband terrorized her son.

“We had the worst stepfather in the world,” Carrie Tyler-Stoafer told me. “He would just beat my brother, beat his head against the wall, and I would say leave him alone — and he would come after me.”

He was his sister’s protector, their mom told me. Tyler, who’s now a vegetarian, was also a lover of animals who became very attached to “each, consecutive family pet,” his mother said.

Continue Reading on page 2 @ SF Gate


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