By Jim Vertuno | Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas — A U.S. Army sergeant convicted of murder in the fatal shooting of an armed protester during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Texas could be facing up to life in prison, even as Gov. Greg Abbott presses for the chance to pardon him.
The two-day sentencing hearing for Daniel Perry began Tuesday with the state presenting dozens of pages of text messages and social media posts that they said demonstrated Perry’s hostile views of the Black Lives Matter protests following the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer.
Perry was working as a ride-share driver in downtown Austin on the summer night in 2020 when he shot and killed 28-year-old Garrett Foster, an Air Force veteran. Foster was legally carrying an AK-47 rifle as he participated in the demonstration against police killings and racial injustice.
Perry was convicted of murder in April.
According to evidence presented by prosecutors Tuesday, Perry 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.”
Perry’s attorneys objected to the statements as taken out of context and said Perry had a right to free speech.
State District Judge Clifford Brown said although excluded at trial, the messages may be considered relevant in the punishment phase.
Forensic psychologist Greg Hupp testified that he believed Perry has post-traumatic stress disorder from his deployment to Afghanistan and being bullied as a child, and that he may also be on the autism spectrum disorder. Perry did not see combat but was near a soldier who shot themself in the head, Hupp said.
Foster’s girlfriend, Whitney Mitchell, described how she and Foster started dating shortly after high school. She described a devoted partner who took care of her everyday needs after an infection led to the amputation of her hands and feet when she was 18.
Foster joined the Air Force in 2011 but left in 2013 to be with her.
“He took care of me,” Mitchell said through tears. “That’s why he wanted to come back, to take care of me. He would wash my face, do my hair, he helped me put my clothing on, he helped put on my makeup … He helped me when I couldn’t do anything.”
Perry’s conviction prompted outrage from prominent conservatives including former Fox News star Tucker Carlson, who called the shooting an act of self-defense and criticized Abbott for not coming on his show.
Abbott, a former judge who has not ruled out a 2024 presidential run, tweeted the next day that “Texas has one of the strongest ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws” and that he looked forward to signing a pardon once a recommendation from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles hits his desk.
The board, which is stacked with Abbott appointees, has already begun what legal experts say is a highly unusual and immediate review of the case on the governor’s orders.
The governor has not said publicly how he came to his conclusion. It is not clear when the parole board will reach a decision on Perry’s case.
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Perry served in the military for more than a decade and was stationed at Fort Hood, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) north of Austin. He had just dropped off a ride-share customer on July 25, 2020, when he turned onto a street filled with protesters.
Perry said he was trying to get past the crowd blocking the street when Foster pointed a rifle at him. Perry said he fired at Foster in self-defense. Witnesses testified that they did not see Foster raise his weapon, and prosecutors argued that Perry could have driven away without shooting.
Floyd was killed on May 25, 2020. A few days later, according to court documents, Perry sent a text message to an acquaintance as protests over Floyd’s death got underway.
“I might go to Dallas to shoot looters,” Perry wrote.