The Deadhead Who Got Life for Mailing LSD—and Five Other Leading Candidates for Clemency


When he pleaded guilty to LSD distribution in 1993, Timothy Tyler, a 24-year-old Deadhead, had no idea he would be going to federal prison for the rest of his life. As his sister, Carrie Tyler-Stoafer, observes in a new video about the case, there is no rational reason for a defendant in Tyler's position to accept a plea deal that calls for a life sentence. Based on advice from his inexperienced public defender, Tyler thought pleading guilty would reduce his sentence to 21 years. If that had been true, he would be free by now. But because of two prior convictions for selling small amounts of LSD, pleading guilty to mailing a confidential informant more than 10 grams (including the weight of the paper) on two different occasions triggered not one but two mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole.

"I was in shock that someone who was a nonviolent person, who didn't hurt people, who was real peaceful and honest…could get life without the possibility of parole," says Tyler-Stoafer. "Murderers get 20 years…You could rob a bank and get 10 years…You could kidnap someone and get 10, 12 years….[You can] do all kinds of evil things and still get out of prison someday….I was devastated." Federal prosecutors had a different reaction, she recalls. "I walked down the hall and down the stairs," she says, "and the prosecutor was high-fiving [the] other attorneys."

Tyler, whose story was included in a 2013 ACLU report on life sentences for nonviolent offenders, has been behind bars since 1993. His only hope of going free seems to lie with President Barack Obama, who has used his clemency power to shorten just 10 sentences so far but reportedly plans to issue "hundreds, perhaps thousands" more commutations by the end of his second term. The video about Tyler, produced and directed by Phil Lee, is part of planned documentary, Locked Up, focusing on Tyler and five other nonviolent drug offenders who are serving life sentences. Lee, who is raising money on Kickstarter for the project, is about halfway toward his goal of $45,000.

Until he read about Tyler's case last fall, Lee says, he did not realize you could receive a life sentence for a "crime" that violates no one's rights. "I had no idea that was even possible in our society!" he says. "I am afraid much of the public has no idea as well….Everything we can do to generate publicity on this issue can help sway opinion and raise awareness."

NEXT: Talkin' Game Panics on Wisconsin Public Radio

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Does the reason store offer carbon-fiber logo athletic cups at this point?

  2. Drugs are worse than Hitler.

    1. There are literally Nazi war criminals that got lighter sentences than this. The lesson? You can personally kill hundreds or thousands of people, but don’t you dare engage in politically disfavored commerce.

  3. Life for some acid. Fucking hell.

    1. It was grams of lsd, some 10^6 doses. 1993, kinds the heart of D.A.R.E and just say no. This guy got hammered by the full federal force of a nation whipped into a furor over a chemical that is essentially harmless.

      There is no reason not to pardon him except apathy.

      1. more than 10 grams (including the weight of the paper)

        10 grams is about a 1/3rd of an ounce.

        A common sheet of 20 lb printer/copier paper weighs about 1/6 of an ounce, give or take.

        Two, count ’em, two fucking sheets of paper.

        1. Sooooooo 200 hits?

          1. Certainly not a million.

        2. Yikes, I thought he was some bigtime distributor. Not a guy with some blotter. I read that as 10g of pure lsd, as in what a guy making blotter might have.

  4. President Barack Obama, who has used his clemency power to shorten just 10 sentences so far but reportedly plans to issue “hundreds, perhaps thousands” more commutations by the end of his second term.

    Heck, whats a few more years? I’m sure those people rotting in the cooler on trumped up charges understand that Obama has a legacy to worry about.

    1. Maybe he’s waiting for his lame-duck period between November 2016 and January 2017.

      1. He’s gotta stay in the news somehow.

  5. Some days I envy the drug-crusaders. It must be nice to go to bed every night knowing in your heart that Mr. Tyler deserved everything that he got.

    Me though, I’m finding it harder every day to visit H&R.

  6. If he could hear Phish he might want to stay in prison.

  7. Is there a bigger nutpunch than learning he depends on Pres Obama for clemency?

    Perhaps Obama will have evolved a better clemency policy in 2017.

    1. At least he has a chance for the first time.

      Granted, Obama has been a failure on drug policy but he has still been better than the rest.

      1. He’s fighting Washington State and Colorado over their law changes. That makes him worse than the rest.

    2. Perhaps Obama will have evolved a better clemency policy in 2017.

      President “Not My Fault” ?!?

      Obama has been unusually shitty on the drug war and on clemency/pardon issues in general; he’s a weak man who allows his underlings to run rampant. Reining in the drug war might open him to criticism. And being an narcissist of the insecure subtype, he can’t bear people criticizing him. And, because he’s a narcissist, he is utterly unmoved by the pain and suffering of others.

  8. This jazz seems as old as the court system. One guy I am researching from the 1970s (not drugs, bombs) got royally screwed in his deal, that was negotiated by Leonard I. Wineglass no less. To top it off, even the prosecutor came to his aid when the Bureau of Prisons calculated his parole eligibility date after he served more time than most of the Weathermen!

  9. . . . more than 10 grams (including the weight of the paper)

    So you’re saying I should switch to really lightweight paper then?

    1. Yes, I remember stories of guys that crossed some mythical line and their sentences doubled because they used heavier blotter paper than usual.

  10. Fuckity fuck fuck fuck. I declare it Punch a Drug Warrior day in Tim Tyler’s honor. This is just sick.

  11. Man, LSD is hard to find.

  12. Granted, Obama has been a failure on drug policy but he has still been better than the rest.

    He only beats you because he loves you, Shreeek.

  13. “I walked down the hall and down the stairs,” she says, “and the prosecutor was high-fiving [the] other attorneys.”

    At first, I was just doubled over from the regular ol’ nut punch, but then this part just made me see red. Utterly enraging.

  14. If I were president, a good portion of my day, every day, would be devoted to reviewing criminal cases and sentences, then issuing pardons.

    1. + a lot of plusses

    2. You would need two terms and all day every day to even make a tiny dent in all the unjustly imprisoned. :/

  15. Two things…

    First, shouldn’t he be able to get a new trial based on incompetence of the lawyer?

    Second, Obama (and I suppose all leaving presidents/governors) is kind of a jerk for knowing that there are people that he would like released, but is waiting for a more politically opportunistic time – while they rot. Pres/Gov == VA administrators.

    1. And what in his up to now behavior makes you think he cares one whit about anyone other than himself?

      You’ve said “…that he would like released…” as if that were true. He doesn’t ‘like’ anything if it doesn’t benefit him. Period.

  16. same old big-brother nonsense. I left the USA in 1988, and have seldom returned, only because of family still there.
    Wake up and leave this Soviet-Style-Empire for greener pastures!

  17. And furthermore, the government should be destroyed.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.