Why a Texas' governor will pardon a convicted killer
Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show.” Follow him @DeanObeidallah@masto.ai. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott announced this weekend that he plans to pardon a defendant convicted last week in the shooting death of a US military veteran who took part in a 2020 Black Lives Matter protest.
Abbott’s planned pardon is a dangerous attack on the rule of law.
Why is the Republican governor – who pardoned just two people last year – in a hurry to pardon the person who was convicted days ago of fatally shooting 28-year-old Air Force veteran Garrett Foster in the middle of a Texas street?
Abbott’s pardon announcement came after he was goaded to do so by figures on the right – from Fox News host Tucker Carlson to the chairman of the Texas Republican Party to Kyle Rittenhouse. The last became celebrated in right-wing circles when, as a teenager, he shot three people in 2020 – killing two and injuring another – during unrest and anti-racism protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin. (Rittenhouse, who was acquitted on all counts in November 2021, testified that he acted in self-defense.)
The facts of the Texas murder case were fairly straightforward: On the night of July 25, 2020, defendant Daniel Perry was working as an Uber driver in Austin as protests were taking place in the Texas capital over the gruesome murder of George Floyd. Foster, who was openly carrying an AK-47, was one of the protesters taking part in the demonstrations.
According to Austin police, Perry was driving his car when he reached an intersection blocked by BLM protesters. He initially paused for a few seconds to allow some demonstrators to cross the street, but after honking his horn at them, he ran a red light. The prosecution argued Perry initiated the encounter by running the light and turning into the crowd, according to CNN affiliate KEYE. That’s when the confrontation took place between Perry and Foster – both White and legally armed.
There are conflicting accounts as to whether Foster pointed his weapon at Perry or Perry made the first move. What’s undisputed, however, is that Perry fired five shots from his .357 revolver through his car window, killing Foster. Perry fled the scene but later called police to report the shooting, saying he acted in self-defense.
During the trial, the key question for the Texas jury was whether Perry’s shooting was justified under the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows deadly force to be used by those who feel their life is in danger.
Prosecutors argued Perry had instigated the incident and introduced into evidence messages that suggested the shooting was not a spur-of-the-moment act but a premeditated one. One of the most damning was Perry’s Facebook message to a friend before the shooting that he might “kill a few people on my way to work. They are rioting outside my apartment complex.” Defense attorneys said that Foster had threatened Perry by pointing his gun at Perry.
During the eight-day trial, dozens of witnesses testified, and forensic evidence was presented. After deliberating for 17 hours, the jury rendered a unanimous verdict on Friday finding Perry guilty of murder. (The jury found him not guilty of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and a deadly conduct charge is pending with the county attorney’s office.)
Then Carlson and others on the right began to pressure Abbott to issue a pardon, because they didn’t agree with the verdict.
On his Fox News show on Friday night, Carlson called on Abbott to pardon Perry, arguing that the defendant had acted in self-defense – despite the jury rejecting that argument. Carlson even attacked the prosecutor by describing him as a “Soros-funded DA,” invoking the billionaire Jewish philanthropist whose name is often used as an antisemitic putdown by the right. Carlson declared that the verdict “means that in the state of Texas, if you have the wrong politics, you’re not allowed to defend yourself.”
The Fox News host was not alone in clamoring for Perry to be pardoned for killing a protester advocating for Black Lives Matter, an organization that has been repeatedly demonized by the right, with then-President Donald Trump in 2020 calling the words “a symbol of hate” and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene in 2021 labeling the movement “the strongest terrorist threat” in the country.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton released a statement to Fox News Digital claiming that “the Soros-backed DA … cares more about the radical agenda of dangerous Antifa and BLM mobs than justice.” And another Texas Republican, US Rep. Ronny Jackson, tweeted his demand that Abbott “PARDON Daniel Perry IMMEDIATELY!”
Did Jackson cite evidence showing that the jury had made a mistake? Nope. But like some other Republicans, he dog-whistled the name Soros, saying, “don’t let a Soros-owned Austin liberal DA destroy our justice system.”
As the pressure campaign mounted, Abbott announced that he would ask the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles – whose members he appoints – to expedite the pardon paperwork for Perry, which he vowed to sign as soon as it “hits my desk.” The governor justified his work for a pardon by saying, “Texas has one of the strongest ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws of self-defense that cannot be nullified by a jury or a progressive District Attorney.”
But the jury was aware of the Stand Your Ground law. It reviewed the facts in the case and determined that Perry was guilty. If the verdict is so clearly wrong, then lawyers for the defendant should file an appeal. (Perry’s attorney, Clint Broden, told CNN his client plans to appeal the verdict.)
In fact, David Wahlberg, a former Travis County criminal court judge, told the Austin American-Statesman newspaper that he can’t think of another case in Texas history when a governor sought a pardon before a verdict was formally appealed.
Trial verdicts are determined by judges and juries, and sentences should not be set aside by a governor – apparently for political reasons. What Abbott is doing is not just wrong, it’s dangerous. His pardon, when it comes, is not what the rule of law looks like.