After prosecutors used his social media history and text messages to paint him as a racist who may conduct violence again, a U.S. Army sergeant who fatally shot an armed protester at a Black Lives Matter march in Texas was sentenced to 25 years in prison on Wednesday.
The case will now likely need a difficult decision from Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who has stated his desire to grant a prompt pardon in light of Daniel Perry’s sentence.
Perry was found guilty in April of killing Garrett Foster at the Austin march in July 2020. Shortly after Perry’s conviction, Abbott asked the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend Perry be given a pardon.
Abbott claimed Perry was mistreated by a liberal prosecutor and praised Texas’ strict Stand Your Ground laws for self-defense. Since then, the governor has remained mute while Perry’s text and internet posting history, which included brutally racist images, has come to light.
An inquiry to Abbott’s office about the punishment and whether he still plans to grant a pardon went unanswered. Perry, 36, faced a maximum sentence of life in jail.
Mark Jones, a professor of political science at Rice University, claimed Abbott acted prematurely in making the pardon request.
“Abbott clearly boxed himself into a corner,” when he appeared to respond to criticism from conservative former Fox News star Tucker Carlson, who demanded the governor act, Jones said.
“I suspect if Gov. Abbott had known all that he knows now, he would not have jumped the gun on pledging to pardon him,” Jones said.
Perry’s case is currently being examined by the Abbott-appointed Pardons and Parole board. According to state law, the governor cannot grant a pardon unless the board recommends it.
The case has become politically charged since it arose during a period of intense protests against racial injustice and police killings of Black people, George Floyd, who was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer.
On Wednesday, Perry’s legal team referred to the case as a “political prosecution” and the publication of the texts and social media posts as “character assassination.”
The defense team would pursue both a pardon and a typical appeal through the legal system, according to attorney Clinton Broden.
“Those who claim that Governor Abbott’s expressed intent is based on politics simply choose to ignore the fact that it was only the political machinations of a rogue district attorney which led to Sgt. Perry’s prosecution,” he said.
Jose Garza, the district attorney for Travis County, claimed Abbott was the one “who decided to insert politics in this case.” Garza claimed that the parole board had informed him that in Perry’s case, he and Foster’s family would be given the opportunity to address the board.
The board acknowledged the probe is still ongoing in a statement but refrained from adding more information.
“The entire history of the board, the board has been a careful steward of the power of clemency in this state,” Garza said. “Our criminal justice system is not perfect, but in this case it worked exactly as it should. The Travis County District Attorney’s office is not done fighting for Garrett and the integrity of that process here.”
In a brief statement before sentencing, state District Judge Clifford Brown said Perry received a fair trial. The jury’s verdict “deserves our honor and it deserves to be respected,” Brown said, without mentioning the potential pardon.
Jones anticipated that the board would allow Perry’s legal challenges to be heard first and that it would be years, if not ever, before the board made a recommendation in the case.
“The majority (of conservatives) will want to put it in the rearview mirror,” Jones said. “Conservatives have far better causes and individuals to support, far better than Daniel Perry.”
Perry had a fair trial, state District Judge Clifford Brown remarked in a brief speech prior to sentencing. The jury’s decision “deserves our honor and it deserves to be respected,” Brown said, omitting to mention the prospective pardon.
Perry, a white soldier, was stationed at Fort Hood, some 110 kilometers (70 miles) north of Austin, at the time of the incident. He had just dropped off a passenger while driving for a ride-sharing company when he turned down a street that was crowded with demonstrators. Foster, a 28-year-old white veteran of the Air Force, was lawfully in possession of an AK-47 weapon.
Perry said that he discharged his pistol in self defense while trying to drive through the mob after Foster pointed a weapon at him. Witnesses claimed that they did not see Foster lift his weapon, and the prosecution contended that Perry was not required to shoot because he could have drove away.
Perry is reportedly in “civilian confinement” pending discharge from the military, according to Army spokesperson Bryce Dubee.
One of the comments Perry made on Facebook a month prior to the shooting said, “It is official I am a racist because I do not agree with people acting like animals at the zoo.” Perry’s comments were among those made public on Tuesday.
Sadly, Floyd passed away on May 25, 2020. Several days later, as demonstrations erupted, Perry texted a friend, saying, “I might go to Dallas to shoot looters.”
When Perry shot and killed Foster, he was with his Black wheelchair-using girlfriend Whitney Mitchell. Foster’s family and Mitchell were present in the courtroom on Wednesday for the sentencing hearing.
After Perry had been given his punishment but was still in the courtroom, Sheila Foster was given the opportunity to speak.
“After three long years we’re finally getting justice for Garrett,” she said. “Mr. Perry, I pray to God that one day he will get rid of all this hate that is in your heart.”