Mandatory Minimums

Obama Commutes Sentences of 111 More Federal Inmates

Among them is Timothy Tyler, a gentle Deadhead who got life in prison for selling LSD.


Tsgt. Brigitte N. Brantley/ZUMA Press/Newscom

The White House announced Tuesday that President Obama had commuted the sentences of 111 federal inmates, his latest round of record-setting commutations this month.

Obama has commuted 325 sentences this month alone, more than double the amount commuted during the rest of his presidency and more than the past 10 presidents combined, in an attempt to clear out a backlog of more than 11,000 pending clemency petitions. In 2014, the Obama administration announced a clemency initiative aimed at nonviolent offenders serving time under mandatory minimum sentencing laws that have since been reduced.

"They are individuals who received unduly harsh sentences under outdated laws for committing largely nonviolent drug crimes, for example, the 35 individuals whose life sentences were commuted today," White House Counsel Neil Eggleston wrote in a blog post Tuesday. "For each of these applicants, the President considers the individual merits of each application to determine that an applicant is ready to make use of his or her second chance."

One of those lucky inmates is Timothy Tyler, who was sentenced to life in federal prison at age 25, while following the Grateful Dead on tour, for selling LSD to a police informant. He had no history of violent crime, and his two previous drug offenses had resulted in parole.

However, the judge had no choice but to sentence him to life under the federal mandatory minimum guidelines.

Rolling Stone featured Tyler in a 2014 story on draconian mandatory minimum sentences:

Two decades later, now 46 and imprisoned in Jesup, Georgia, Tyler vividly remembers his first Grateful Dead concert, which he hitchhiked 900 miles to attend in Rosemont, Illinois. "I felt this energy," he says. "I immediately knew I had found what I was searching for."

"Tim was captivated by the tie-dyes and the people twirling," says his younger sister, Carrie. "But it was also sanity, acceptance, peace." Growing up in rural Connecticut, the two endured physical abuse at the hands of their stepfather. Carrie describes her brother as "too trusting" and a "gentle soul," and remembers their stepfather instructing him as a nine-year-old to bury a litter of puppies that had died after contracting heartworm. "Tim was punched and put down," she says. "The Deadheads taught him about the earth and karma and positive things."

Criminal justice groups applauded the latest set of commutations.

"Mandatory sentences, and especially mandatory life sentences for non-violent offenses, should be abandoned once and for all," Julie Stewart, the president of the nonprofit group Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said in a statement. "We applaud the President for using the clemency power to free people who fully expected to die in prison and for shining a light on the excesses of federal drug sentencing."

Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has blasted Obama in campaign speeches for letting inmates like Tyler go. "Some of these people are bad dudes," Trump said earlier this month, "And these are people who are out, they're walking the streets. Sleep tight, folks."

Here's a video about Timothy Tyler's case: