Gary Scot Tomlin, a former resident of Three Rivers and Sequoia National Park, died Friday, May 12, 2017. He was 54.
Gary was born June 1, 1962. He was raised and educated in Virginia.
By the time he was 18, his wanderlust had taken hold and Gary headed to the West Coast. Eventually he settled in California.
Gary worked in Sequoia National Park in visitor services for the various concessioner companies that came and went. In his off hours, he enjoyed exploring the mountains and the river canyons.
Gary was living and working in Three Rivers when his life took a drastic turn. In 2002, he was falsely accused of rape and kidnapping by another man at Lake Kaweah.
A year-long nightmare of navigating the Tulare County justice system ended when he was convicted without any evidence of a crime he didn’t commit. He received the unthinkable sentence of 51-years-to-life. This harsh term was because the accuser fabricated that Gary had a gun and held him hostage.
Gary, who was small in stature and weighed about 120 pounds, was a nature-loving pacifist who had never owned a firearm. No weapon was produced as evidence during the trial.
The tragedy that had become Gary’s life continued its downward spiral. Gary was incarcerated on April 3, 2003, at the age of 40. He steadfastly proclaimed his innocence for the next 14 years, passing a professionally administered lie detector test and at one point garnering the attention of the Northern California Innocence Project, which worked diligently on his case for several years.
During his imprisonment, Gary was shuffled around to several California Department of Corrections prisons, including Corcoran. By late 2013, he had been housed at Mule Creek State Prison for several years when he was diagnosed Stage 4 gastroesophageal cancer, his second life sentence.
Gary was soon transferred to CDCR’s California Health Care Facility in Stockton, where he received treatment that included surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
He died in a cold, sterile room with no family or friends at his bedside. Gary’s mother in Virginia was informed of her son’s death via a phone call from the prison at 12:10 a.m. (EDT) on May 13.
Gary was preceded in death by his father, Richard Tomlin, and two brothers: in 1995, his older brother, Dale, died after battling cancer and, in 2010, his next oldest brother, Kirk, died of cancer.
He is survived by his mother, Lois Tomlin, of Lynchburg, Va.; brother Michael W. Tomlin and wife Melissa of Elkton, Va.; two sisters-in-law, Sallie Tomlin of North Carolina and Rhonda Tomlin of Lynchburg; and a niece and nephews.
An informal gathering of Gary’s Three Rivers and Sequoia friends will be held locally at a date to be determined in June.
Remembrances in Gary’s name may be made to the Northern California Innocence Project (mysantaclara.scu.edu/giving/LAW/Innocence or c/o Santa Clara University, 500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95053). Donations will support NCIP’s ongoing work of exonerating the wrongfully convicted and criminal justice reform.
UPDATE – JUNE 16, 2017: The following letter was received by The Kaweah Commonwealth in memory of, and as a tribute to, Gary Tomlin.
From Gary’s friends at California Health Care Facility in Stockton, Calif.:
California’s prison system contained a human being who was held in the highest esteem by everyone who knew him. This tribute will barely touch on the qualities that earned Gary Tomlin such a deep fondness from his fellows, but the following should be known.
Gary was the most giving and unselfish person any of us have come across. Even at the most excruciating times as his cancer set in, he made time to help others. Gary was a sweet, peace-loving, and gentle person who had all of us scratching our heads as to what bizarre twist of fate should have sent him into a penal institution for the rest of his life.
There was nothing whatever about him that suggested his placement in prison was justified or necessary. The conclusion we reach is that the spiritual powers in which he was a deep believer decided that his presence was needed inside a particularly dysfunctional prison system.
Gary gave out love in abundance and was, himself, the center of much love and affection. His behavior, character, and integrity raised the quality of his surroundings by a marked degree. He touched many hundreds with his essential kindness, his humor, his generosity.
We also wish it to be known that we deemed it impossible that Gary could have committed the acts of which he was eventually convicted. There was simply no abusiveness, no violence, never any hint of forcefulness in him.
We know that our feelings are shared by lawyers and other parties who vainly tried to clear his record and secure his freedom.
Gary’s peaceful outlook and beliefs belied his fighting strengths. He faced his difficulties as a true warrior and fought for all he was worth against his cancer, for his freedom, and for his compassionate released when the end seemed imminent.
Gary refused to be moved to the prison hospice because it would have meant he was giving up. All of us who knew him endorsed this decision in every respect.
Gary was an asset in every one of the prison communities he was part of. He would have preferred to be elsewhere, but it is a fact that his presence within has been of the greatest benefit.
Wherever he now is, that fact will be abundantly clear to him, and he will be at peace. We needed him here.