AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A U.S. Army sergeant was sentenced to 25 years in prison Wednesday for fatally shooting an armed man during a Black Lives Matter protest in Texas, even after the state’s Republican governor said he wanted to pardon the man.
Daniel Perry, 36, was convicted of murder in April for killing 28-year-old Garrett Foster during the downtown Austin protest in July 2020.
“After three long years we’re finally getting justice for Garrett,” his mother, Sheila Foster, told the court.
“Mr. Perry, I pray to God that one day, he will get rid of all this hate that is in your heart,” she said.
Perry’s attorney Clinton Broden said in a statement after sentencing that his client would appeal. He called Perry’s conviction the product of “political prosecution,” and said the defense team would “fully cooperate in the pardon process.”
Perry’s conviction prompted outrage from prominent conservatives, and Gov. Greg Abbott has said he would sign a pardon once a recommendation from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles — stacked with Abbott appointees — hits his desk
The board is reviewing Perry’s case on the governor’s orders, but it is unclear when it will reach a decision.
District Judge Clifford Brown delivered a statement during sentencing that didn’t address the potential pardon directly. But he insisted that Perry had a “fair and impartial trial” and that the jury’s decision “deserves our honor and it deserves to be respected.”
The pardon process is a valuable check on the court system, Broden said Wednesday. “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 in the first instance.”
Perry was stationed at Fort Hood, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) north of Austin, when the shooting happened. He had just dropped off a ride-share customer and turned onto a street filled with protesters.
Perry said he was trying to get past the crowd and fired his pistol when Foster pointed a rifle at him. Witnesses testified that they did not see Foster raise his weapon, and prosecutors argued that Perry could have driven away without shooting.
Perry said he acted in self-defense. His lawyers asked the judge to consider his more than a decade-long military career and hand down a sentence of no more than 10 years. He has been classified as in “civilian confinement” and is pending separation from the military, Army spokesman Bryce Dubee said.
Prosecutor Guillermo Gonzalez had urged Brown to issue a sentence of at least 25 years. The sentencing range for the murder conviction is five years to life in prison.
“This man is a loaded gun, ready to go off at any perceived threat,” Gonzalez said. “He’s going to do it again.”
On Tuesday, prosecutors submitted into evidence dozens of texts and social media posts Perry wrote, shared or liked, including some shockingly racist images. They had been excluded from Perry’s trial, but were publicly released after his conviction and allowed into the sentencing phase by Brown.
Perry, who is white, was working as a ride-share driver in downtown Austin on July 25, 2020, when he shot and killed Foster, an Air Force veteran. Foster, who was also white, was legally carrying an AK-47 rifle as he participated in the demonstration against police killings and racial injustice, following the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer.
Among Perry’s statements introduced Tuesday, he wrote on Facebook a month before the shooting: “It is official I am a racist because I do not agree with people acting like animals at the zoo.”
Floyd was killed on May 25, 2020. A few days later as protests erupted, Perry sent a text message to an acquaintance: “I might go to Dallas to shoot looters.”
Perry attorney Douglas O’Connell argued that the texts and posts were presented by prosecutors out of context, and that Perry has a right to free speech.
“Some of those social media posts are frankly repugnant,” O’Connell said, while classifying others as “dark humor.”
Foster was with his girlfriend, Whitney Mitchell, who is Black and uses a wheelchair, when Perry gunned him down.
“Black lives mattered to Garrett,” his mother told the courtroom Wednesday. “The love of his life was a Black woman.”