September 28, 2012 1 Comment
Curtis Shuler and his wife, Melissa, received bad news from the courts today when they learned that the 2nd district court affirmed the original court’s decision with regard to Curtis’s case.
Curtis was 16 when he was arrested for murder in Florida, but he was not tried until he was 21. Though the jury found, based on evidence presented, that he did not brandish a weapon or commit the offense in question, he was convicted and given the sentence of life without parole. I discussed his case at greater length in an earlier write up.
Curtis still has an appeal pending in federal court, but today’s news was understandably difficult for the Shulers to receive.
The irony is that when Melissa informed me about the decision I was working on a write up of an interview I did with Curtis. The universe adheres to a mysterious schedule I suppose.
I have talked to Curtis about various topics surrounding his conviction, his experiences in prison, and his goals for the future. He is an unusually optimistic person who makes the most of his time. “I look for the best in people first,” he explained to me about himself. “I try to coax them into believing in themselves and the talents God gave them.” He went on to say he is both friendly and passionate as well.
It is important to Curtis that people know a few things. “First is that I am no murderer. I sincerely hate the fact that a man lost his life from the stupidity of teenage boys, but I did not kill Larry Tyler and I had absolutely nothing to do with it.”
It has been 14 years since the murder happened. Curtis, along with those who know about his case, have a hard time understanding his conviction. “There was never any evidence to prove I committed the crime,” he said. “Just one state witness, not indicted, who admitted to busting out lights to further the crime. I had numerous alibi witnesses – 13 in all. There was no physical, scientific, or DNA evidence linking me to this crime and two of the so-called eyewitnesses ‘recanted’ their testimonies and testified under oath that I was not present when Tyler died.”
Curtis spends a typical day getting up in the morning and watching the 7 a.m. news. He works out for about 30 minutes each day. He then performs his job as a Canteen Operator. Afterwards he sometimes writes or reads his Bible. “If I get a chance to go play with my band I will, or maybe draw.” He explained that the prison has night classes three times a week that he participates in. Visitors come from the outside and study with the inmates.
Curtis enjoys his involvement in the program, acting as a facilitator and a dorm overseer. On Saturdays he teaches Bible study for an hour in the evenings. On Sunday he provides instructional art lessons. He keeps himself busy by taking on various painting projects on the prison compound.
In addition to the above, Curtis also spends his free time studying the law. “I do my own law work,” he said to me. “I have to.” He admitted that it requires a lot of studying and he is not always sure how to find time for it all. However, somehow he manages.
His wife Melissa wishes she could find an attorney for Curtis. She works hard to raise awareness about her husband’s case, but she finds it challenging to spark the right kind of interest. The family does not have enough income to pay someone to represent Curtis legally, but she holds out hope of finding someone who would be willing to work for her husband pro bono.
Despite the difficult situation Curtis is in, he retains an optimistic view of his life and he has many goals for the future. He would love to travel the world with his band. “I believe that music can heal people. Through music you can change people – help people.” He went on to say, “Music gives you a voice to reach the world. That’s how I’m going to send my message – through the power of my voice and my creativity.”
Though Curtis was wrongfully convicted as a juvenile, I was interested in his thoughts on juveniles who are guilty of committing various offenses and their capacity for change. “I believe young children can change and will change if given the right counselors and environment to set the foundation for them.”
His response immediately made me think of Cristian Fernandez in Florida, whose attorneys were to present arguments in court today to try to compel the judge to dismiss the multiple charges against him. The judge reserved ruling after listening to 45 minutes of arguments, and the next hearing is not until October 8th. It made me wonder who in this world gets to decide which children are worthy of the opportunity to change, and which will be condemned to living a life behind bars. It seems this is more a political decision than anything else – a decision made by those who are least qualified to make it.
Curtis expounded on his thoughts about juveniles. “Some may take longer than others, but I believe we can never discover a person’s potential if we fail to discover who the person is, where he is at – at that moment in life when he or she screws up.” Curtis wrote a book that delves into this topic and also discusses his own experiences as an incarcerated teenager. He has become a man in prison, surrounded by some who have also been wrongfully convicted and others who were guilty as charged.
Curtis relies on his immediate family, consisting of his wife and son, for his primary emotional support. He described his own family as being somewhat “absent”. He believes that sometimes people get too wrapped up in possessions and material things to experience the value of a true relationship. “When someone loves you and accepts you by what you don’t have, that’s the one you keep,” he said.
If you know someone who can help Curtis find an attorney, or someone who might be interested in helping him, please contact his wife Melissa Shuler. She would be grateful for any help she can get. Another way you can help is by signing his petition.