A Texas state district court has sentenced a United States army sergeant to 25 years in prison on Wednesday, after he was found guilty last month of killing a Black Lives Matter protester.
The legal team for Daniel Perry, 36, has already announced he would appeal the sentence, handed down by Judge Cliff Brown of the 147th Criminal District Court.
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But the 25-year prison term sets the stage for Republican Governor Greg Abbott to make good on remarks he made promising to pardon the army sergeant, who has argued he acted in self-defence.
Perry was convicted of murder in the shooting of 28-year-old Garrett Foster, a US air force veteran who was demonstrating at a Black Lives Matter rally on July 25, 2020, in the state capital of Austin. Both Foster and Perry are white.
The protest came in the wake of several high-profile incidents of police violence against Black Americans, including Breonna Taylor, who was shot to death in her Kentucky apartment during a botched raid, and George Floyd, who died after an officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
“After three long years, we’re finally getting justice for Garrett,” Sheila Foster, the victim’s mother, told the courtroom after Perry was sentenced. In her remarks, she addressed Perry directly: “I pray to God that one day he will get rid of all this hate that is in your heart.”
The day before Wednesday’s sentencing hearing, prosecutors introduced evidence that showed Perry had made and shared racist statements online and through text messages.
In one of those messages, Perry addressed reports of looting in the midst of the Black Lives Matter protests by saying: “I might go to Dallas to shoot looters.”
“This man is a loaded gun, ready to go off at any perceived threat,” prosecutor Guillermo Gonzalez told the court as he pushed for a minimum sentence of 25 years. “He’s going to do it again.”
Perry’s legal team, meanwhile, argued that the messages, while “repugnant”, were protected speech and taken out of context. Lawyer Clinton Broden also called the case an example of “political prosecution”.
He called for Perry to serve no more than 10 years in prison, as the army sergeant allegedly feared for his life. The defence has maintained that Foster pointed his legally-owned AK-47 at Perry during the rally.
“As part of the appeal, we will be able to focus on the evidence that was kept from both the grand jury and trial jury,” Broden said in a statement.
In a statement before Wednesday’s sentencing, Judge Brown addressed questions of political bias before the court, confirming that Perry had received a “fair and impartial trial”. He added that the jury’s verdict “deserves to be respected”.
But the case has garnered national attention in the US, particularly among conservatives, with Governor Abbott announcing in April that he would pursue a pardon for Perry.
“Texas has one of the strongest ‘Stand Your Ground‘ laws of self-defence that cannot be nullified by a jury or a progressive District Attorney,” Abbott wrote on Twitter, referencing the prosecution team led by Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza, a Democrat.
In Texas, a governor can only grant a pardon on the recommendation of the state’s Board of Pardons and Paroles. Abbott said he had asked the board to issue that recommendation.
Garza, meanwhile, has accused Abbott of trying to “insert politics in this case”. He said his prosecutors would present a case against a pardon to the board.