Betty Tyson, a Black woman who spent 25 years in a New York prison for a 1973 murder before being exonerated, died Aug. 17 at a Rochester hospital following complications from a heart attack, her sister said, according to the Associated Press. She was 75.
Delorise Thomas said her sister had made piece with her time in prison.
“She enjoyed herself, going out driving, playing cards, going out to different parties…She enjoyed her life,” Thomas, 72, told the AP from her Rochester home, where Tyson lived.
In February 1974, Tyson received a 25-year-to-life prison sentence for the murder of Timothy Haworth. The incident unfolded when the Philadelphia business consultant left his Rochester hotel around midnight on May 24, 1973, seemingly in search of a prostitute. He was discovered the following day, strangled with his necktie, in an alley.
Tyson and another prostitute John Duval both signed confessions to the murder. The pair said the Rochester Police Department beat confessions out of them. At the trial, two teenage runaways said that they saw Tyson and Duval with Haworth shortly before he was killed, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. The two were separately sentenced to 25 years to life in prison on a second-degree murder charge. One of the teen witnesses later revealed he was beaten and forced by police to give an eyewitness statement.
It was not until May 1998 that Tyson would have her conviction overturned because the police kept secret a report that contradicted one of their key witnesses. Duval’s conviction was overturned in June 1998 for the same reason.
Tyson later received a settlement from the City of Rochester for $1.3 million. Despite the settlement, she later struggle financially and worked cleaning a daycare center for $143 a week.
“All that bitterness and anger left me in the late ’70s,” she said in 1999 an interview with the Associated Press. “I wasn’t a goody two-shoes, but the fact of the matter is, I didn’t kill anybody.”
While incarcerated, Tyson was a model prisoner. She counseled female offenders with AIDS, got a printer’s apprenticeship, led aerobics classes, and was known as “mom” to the younger incarcerated women in the facility.
Delorise Thomas told the Associated Press that she she felt her sister was finally “free.”