He Had His First Thanksgiving With Fam in 31 Years—Then Allegedly Murdered a Priest

Archdiocese of New Orleans
Archdiocese of New Orleans

This year marked Antonio Donde Tyson’s first Thanksgiving home in more than three decades.

Tyson, 49, was released from a Louisiana state prison in August, following a 1993 conviction for burglary, armed robbery, and forcible rape.

“31 years 10 months since me and my three siblings has been together [on] our first Thanksgiving,” Tyson’s younger brother Lester, 43, wrote in a Nov. 24 Facebook post. “I enjoy Thanksgiving and I’m so thankful for God have truly blessed us with family[,] friends[,] and most important to us is the food that God has provided before us thank you and I’m truly so blessed for all that God have done for us and others.”

On the morning of Nov. 28, Fr. Otis Young was found dead in the New Orleans suburb of Covington, his body beaten, stabbed, and burned beyond recognition. A second set of remains were lying next to the 71-year-old Catholic priest—who retired in June after having been sidelined by a stroke and heart surgery—also charred to the point of being unidentifiable. Authorities are conducting DNA testing to ID the second body, which is believed to be that of 73-year-old parish assistant Ruth Prats, Young’s caretaker.

Hours later, police arrested Tyson, who is facing charges of two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree kidnapping, two counts of obstruction of justice, and one count each of resisting an officer and illegal possession of stolen property.

“I hate everything that happened. I truly do,” Lester Tyson, who goes by his middle name, Michael, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. “And I’m just at a loss for words right now. The only thing you can ask yourself is, ‘Why?’”

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In December 1991, an 18-year-old Antonio Tyson was arrested for a violent home invasion that could have put him away for life. After pistol-whipping and raping the victim at gunpoint, Tyson and an accomplice stole the woman’s car and fled, according to news reports at the time. Police caught the pair driving the stolen vehicle, and were ultimately charged with a spate of felonies including aggravated rape, which carries a mandatory life sentence.

However, the charge was reduced in a 1993 plea bargain, and Tyson was sentenced to a 40-year prison term for forcible rape, as well as 40 years for armed robbery and 30 years for aggravated burglary. The sentences were to run concurrently, rather than consecutively, and Tyson, if he stayed out of trouble while incarcerated, would be eligible for release after serving 50 percent of his time, Louisiana Department of Correction spokesman Ken Pastorick said in a statement.

But prison officials docked Tyson 4,219 days of “goodtime” for unspecified violations, and his original “goodtime release date” of Feb. 1, 2012 came and went, according to the statement. After earning back 360 days for courses and programming he took behind bars, Tyson was paroled on Aug. 21, 2022.

“Since his release, and up to his arrest, he has complied with the conditions of his goodtime parole including employment and having a place to live,” the statement said.

Tyson’s brother had put him to work at his construction business, where he seemed to be doing fine—until four days ago.

“I don’t know if he’s being framed for his past, I don’t know,” Lester Tyson told The Daily Beast, adding that he is “trying to limit” his children’s exposure to too many details of the case. “I don’t know anything. I’m just beating myself up, asking myself, ‘Why,’ you know?”

Tyson “has no affiliation” with St. Peter Catholic Church, where Prats had worked and Young served until just a few months ago, according to a notice posted on the church’s website.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Antonio Tyson’s booking photo, taken Monday.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Covington Police Department</div>

Antonio Tyson’s booking photo, taken Monday.

Covington Police Department

In a statement released Wednesday, Archbishop Gregory Aymond of the New Orleans Archdiocese said, “The horror of the events that have unfolded here in Covington is beyond shocking. The pain, sadness, and disbelief that something like this could happen will stay with us but particularly those who are most directly affected for a very long time.”

Young ministered to congregations at three Louisiana churches before landing at St. Peter 10 years ago, according to NOLA.com. Prats had been a member of St. Peter for roughly 40 years, a friend told the outlet.

Young was an accountant by training and had an extensive collection of classic rock albums, according to a former seminarian who knew him well. In early 2020, he suffered a stroke and was found face-down on the floor of his rectory bedroom four hours later, the Clarion Herald, the official newspaper of the New Orleans Archdiocese, reported last June. A subsequent angiogram found blockages serious enough to warrant bypass surgery, which Young had two Novembers ago.

The stroke left Young largely unable to move the entire left side of his body, but thrice-weekly physical therapy sessions and a rolling walker allowed him to continue tending to his flock.

“I’m able to lift the host and the chalice because I use my right hand for everything,” Young told the Clarion Herald.

Prats, an administrator at St. Peter and former schoolteacher, had two daughters. She tended to Young as he recuperated, devotedly shuttling him between home, doctor’s appointments, and church.

“They were such good friends, really pure friends in faith,” Young’s niece, who lives in Maryland, told NOLA.com, noting that Prats was “the only person my entire family had to let us know how he was doing.”

“Ruth's whole life was sharing the love and giving to people,” a former colleague told the outlet. “We had endless conversations about her family and her eight grandchildren.”

A longtime friend of Prats shared a memory with a local NBC affiliate, recalling an interaction the two had while signing a Christmas card for a mutual acquaintance.

“She gave me a big hug and said, ‘I will always love you,’” the woman, who did not want to be named on camera, told WDSU.

A “second individual” was detained shortly after the bodies were discovered, but “that person has since been released and at this time is not labeled as suspect,” Covington Police Department spokesman Sgt. Edwin Masters told The Daily Beast, describing the double homicide as “horrific.”

Authorities have not released any further information about the case, and have not specified a possible motive or what led them to zero in on Tyson. Masters said the P.D. did not have any documentation, such as an arrest report, available for release. A press conference scheduled for Wednesday was postponed for unspecified reasons, and has not been rescheduled.

Following Tyson’s arrest, his brother once again took to Facebook with a decidedly bleak update to his previous joyful Thanksgiving message.

“I wouldnt in a million years think after all me and my sister have done for him he would do something like this.. we did all that we could for my brother,” he wrote. “[F]or our big brother to know or to think that my brother would do something so stupid after 31 years being in prison I can’t believe this happened..”

Tyson’s sister Leslie told NOLA.com on Monday that she was “in disbelief.”

“I’m just numb,” she said. “He was always with his family. He went to church every Sunday.”

On Facebook, Lester Tyson signed off his last post with a prayer for the victims.

“[O]ur condolences goes out to the family that this has happened to,” he wrote. “[Y]ou all have our deepest sympathy and will be in our prayers and we are truly sorry for what has happened we have done our part and we place the rest in God’s hands[.]”

Tyson remains jailed, pending a bond hearing scheduled for Dec. 21. John Lindner, Tyson’s court-appointed lawyer, did not immediately respond on Thursday to a request for comment.

Young’s funeral is set for Monday.

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