Texas man sentenced to 25 years for killing protester in 2020

A Texas judge on Wednesday sentenced Daniel Perry to 25 years in prison for shooting and killing a protester in 2020, a case that garnered the attention of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who has said he will pursue a pardon.

Perry was convicted on April 7 by a Travis County jury of murdering Garrett Foster, 28, on July 25, 2020, amid racial justice and police brutality protests in downtown Austin, Texas.

Perry's lawyers argued in court that he acted in self-defense and said Foster was carrying an AK-47 at the time. But prosecutors pointed to witness testimony that Foster, a U.S. Air Force veteran, never raised his weapon and said Perry could have gotten away without shooting.

Texas' Republican leadership has rallied behind Perry. One day after he was convicted, Abbott said he wanted to issue a pardon. Under Texas law, he can only do so after a recommendation by the state's Board of Pardons and Paroles, whose members are appointed by the governor.

Travis County District Attorney José Garza on Wednesday said the Board of Pardons and Paroles had committed to allowing prosecutors and Foster's family to make presentations before they issue a recommendation.

U.S. Army Sgt. Daniel Perry, who was convicted of murder for fatally shooting an armed protester in 2020 during nationwide protests against police violence and racial injustice, is seen on a pool video feed as he arrives for his sentencing hearing in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, May 9, 2023. / Credit: Eric Gay / AP

"This is not a normal case," Garza said. "It is not a normal case, because in early April, the Texas governor made the decision to insert politics into this case."

Perry's attorney, Clinton Broden, said in a statement on Wednesday that Perry will appeal and plans to "fully cooperate in the Texas pardon process." Broden also said they plan to appeal.

District Judge Clifford Brown on Wednesday did not directly address Abbott's vow to pardon Perry, but said Perry had a "fair and impartial trial" and that the jury's decision "deserves our honor and it deserves to be respected," CBS Austin reported.

Prosecutors sought 25 years in prison for Perry, an Army sergeant who was stationed at Fort Hood at the time of the shooting and working as a ride-share driver. During the sentencing phase, they presented text messages and social media posts by Perry, including a May 31, 2020, Facebook post in which he wrote: "It is official I am a racist because I do not agree with people acting like animals at the zoo. I was on the side of the protestors until the started with the looting and the violence."

In asking for a more lenient sentence, Perry's lawyers had asked the court on Tuesday to consider his career in the military and a forensic psychologist testified that he believed Perry suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Foster's mother Sheila told the court that "after three long years we're finally getting justice for Garrett."

Sheila Foster and her son's girlfriend, Whitney Mitchell, both spoke at Tuesday's sentencing hearing. Mitchell, who is Black, was with Foster at the time he was killed.

Will Perry be pardoned?

Abbott, who is in his third term as governor, only issued two pardons in all of 2022.

"I am working as swiftly as Texas law allows regarding the pardon of Sgt. Perry," Abbott tweeted on April 8, the day after Perry was convicted.

It's unclear how long the pardoning process could take. Garza, the district attorney, said Wednesday that his office will be scheduling presentations with the board "over the next several weeks."

"I just want to note that for the entire history of the board, the board has been a careful steward of the power of clemency in our state and the Travis County District Attorney's Office is looking forward to ensuring that they have access all of the relevant facts and information in this case," Garza said.

Sheila Foster told CBS Texas that Abbott's comments about pardoning Perry "literally buckled me over. I haven't left my house. I didn't do anything on Easter. I'm shaking like a leaf right now. I'm sick to my stomach. I can't eat anything, and it's almost like all that weight was lifted in that verdict and now it feels like the biggest hammer in the world is crashing down on me."

Broden, Perry's attorney, said in a statement on Wednesday that the legal team is "aware the criticism that has unfairly surrounded Gov. Abbott's expressed intent for a pardon." He said "that criticism fails to account for the fact that the pardon process was designed, to be a check o the system," and alleged that the charges against Perry were part of a "political prosecution."

"In the event Sgt. Perry might ultimately receive a pardon, it would simply reflect the strong self-defense laws that exist in Texas and the political efforts of a rogue district attorney to curtail the rights of Texas citizens in an effort to appease the district attorney's own political supporters," Broden said.

Perry's past messages and social media posts revealed

After Perry was convicted, the court released some of his messages and social media posts from before and shortly after the shooting. Broden on Wednesday said those messages were "certainly troubling and completely inappropriate," but they did not change what happened in the case, again arguing that Perry acted in self-defense.

At the sentencing hearing, prosecutor Guillermo Gonzalez said Perry's messages and social media posts showed he is a "loaded gun, ready to go off at any perceived threat," CBS Austin reported.

According to the court records, Perry searched on the internet for phrases that included "protest in austin today," "protest in dallas today" and "protesters in seattle get shot." The filing showed he had files on his phones that included a meme that said "IT'S A PROVEN FACT THAT CRIMINALS COMMIT LESS CRIME AFTER THEY'VE BEEN SHOT."

Perry also messaged an acquaintance on May 31 that he was "buying more ammo" after the friend told him to be safe. In Facebook Messenger exchange on the same day, Perry wrote, "I might have to kill a few people on my way to work they are rioting outside my apartment complex." The person asked him "can you legally do so?" to which Perry responded, "if they attack me or try to pull me out of my car then yes. If I just do it because I am driving by then no."

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