Less than 24 hours after a jury in Austin found Daniel Perry guilty of shooting to death a protester, Gov. Greg Abbott announced on social media Saturday that he would pardon the convicted killer as soon as a request “hits my desk.”
The unprecedented effort, which Abbott announced to his 1 million followers on Twitter, came as Abbott faced growing calls from national conservative figures such as Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Kyle Rittenhouse, who was acquitted in the shooting deaths of two Wisconsin protesters in 2020, to act to urgently undo the conviction.
“Texas has one of the strongest ‘Stand your ground’ laws of self-defense that cannot be nullified by a jury or progressive district attorney,” Abbott said in a statement. “I will work as swiftly as Texas law allows regarding the pardon of Sgt. Perry.”
Abbott’s office did not return calls from the American-Statesman on Saturday seeking additional comment. The two-week trial, which included dozens of witnesses and much forensic evidence, was not broadcast. Abbott attended no portion of the trial.
Perry, an Army sergeant, was working as an Uber driver in Austin on the night of July 25, 2020, when he ran a red light at the intersection of Fourth Street and Congress Avenue and drove into a Black Lives Matter march before stopping.
Garrett Foster, carrying an AK-47 rifle, was among a group of protesters who approached his car. Perry told police that Foster threatened him by raising the barrel of his rifle at him, so he shot him five times with a .357 revolver through the window of his car before driving away.
Perry’s defense team argued that he acted in self-defense, but prosecutors contended that Perry instigated what happened. They highlighted a series of social media posts and Facebook messages in which Perry made statements that they said indicated his state of mind, such as he might “kill a few people on my way to work. They are rioting outside my apartment complex.”
A friend responded, “Can you legally do so?” Perry replied, “If they attack me or try to pull me out of my car then yes.”
A jury Friday unanimously convicted Perry.
State District Judge Clifford Brown is set to sentence him to prison in the coming days. He faces up to life in prison.
David Wahlberg, a former Travis County criminal court judge, said he cannot think of another example in the state’s history when a governor sought a pardon before a verdict was formally appealed.
“I think it’s outrageously presumptuous for someone to make a judgment about the verdict of 12 unanimous jurors without actually hearing the evidence in person,” Wahlberg said.
Doug O’Connell, who represents Perry, told the Statesman in a statement Saturday: “Right now we are completely focused on preparing for Daniel’s sentencing hearing. I visited Daniel in jail this morning. As you might expect he is devastated. He spoke to me about his fears that he will never get to hug his mother again. He’s also crushed that his conviction will end his Army service. He loves being a soldier.”
Travis County District Attorney José Garza had no immediate comment.
The jury deliberated 17 hours over two days before reaching the verdict Friday afternoon after an eight-day trial with dozens of witnesses. Perry didn’t testify during the trial.
Foster’s brother, Ryan Foster, said Saturday that he didn’t think Perry should be pardoned. “This was clearly premeditated,” Ryan Foster told the Statesman. “He (Perry) thought a lot about it and planned on doing it. … He wanted to kill a protester and saw somebody exercising their Second Amendment right.”
After the judge read the verdict to the packed courtroom Friday, Perry, 35, buried his head into one of his lawyer’s chests and erupted into loud sobs. The jury also found Perry not guilty of an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in connection to driving in front of another protester.
Perry’s conviction was instantly condemned by gun-rights advocates Friday night.
“(Gov. Abbott) this is an unfair conviction. Please step in and free Daniel Perry,” Rittenhouse wrote on Twitter. “He was justified in defending his own life when an AK-47 was pointed at him and he doesn’t deserve to be in jail.”
Fox’s Carlson decried the conviction in a two-minute segment on his show, referring to the Austin protesters as a “mob of rioters” who surrounded Perry’s car and began pounding on it. He said Perry fired when Foster raised his rifle.
“This is a legal atrocity,” Carlson said. “There is no right of self-defense in Texas.”
He invited Abbott on his show Monday to discuss whether he would consider a pardon for Perry.
Jennifer Laurin, a University of Texas law professor, addressed the portion of Abbott’s statement on Texas’ self-defense laws. She said that a jury is instructed to reject the defense when the person asserting it provoked the response, as prosecutors say Perry did when he drove his car into a crowd of protesters.
“Painting the conviction as rogue nullification is uniformed or deceptive,” Laurin tweeted.
Abbott lacks authority under state law to issue a pardon without first getting a recommendation from the Board of Pardons and Paroles, whose members he appoints. In his statement, Abbott said he already asked the board to review the verdict to determine if Perry should be granted a pardon.
“I have made that request and instructed the board to expedite its review,” Abbott said. “I look forward to approving the board’s pardon recommendation as soon as it hits my desk.”
Abbott typically announces pardons every year in December around Christmas.
A pardon would release Perry from his sentence and restore his right to vote and serve on a jury.Defense lawyer Rick Cofer, who was not involved in the trial, expressed astonishment over Abbott’s announcement.
“It’s what happens in Uganda or El Salvador,” said Cofer, a former prosecutor. “Total abrogation of the rule of law. And what’s even worse is that Abbott knows better. He was a smart Texas Supreme Court Justice. He knows this is legally wrong. Profoundly wrong. Pure politics.”