Former US Army sergeant released from prison after Gov. Abbott pardons him for 2020 fatal Black Lives Matter protest shooting

Daniel Perry, a former US Army sergeant who was convicted of murdering a protester at a Black Lives Matter rally in 2020, was released from prison Thursday after he was pardoned by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Abbott’s decision comes after the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted unanimously Thursday to recommend a full pardon and the restoration of firearm rights for Perry, who was sentenced last year to 25 years in prison. Shortly after he was pardoned, Perry was released from Texas Department of Criminal Justice custody, a spokesperson for the agency told CNN.

Abbott asked the board to conduct an investigation in April 2023, and in a statement on Thursday, the board said its “investigative efforts encompassed a meticulous review of pertinent documents, from police reports to court records, witness statements, and interviews with individuals linked to the case.”

Perry faced between five and 99 years in prison for fatally shooting 28-year-old Air Force veteran Garrett Foster at an Austin, Texas, racial justice rally two months after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Shortly after Perry’s conviction in April 2023, Abbott said he wanted to pardon Perry and issued an unusual request for the state Board of Pardons and Paroles to expedite a review of the case before a sentence was handed down.

“Among the voluminous files reviewed by the Board, they considered information provided by the Travis County District Attorney, the full investigative report on Daniel Perry, plus a review of all the testimony provided at trial,” Abbott said in a statement.

“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. I thank the Board for its thorough investigation, and I approve their pardon recommendation,” Abbott said.

The governor can only pardon Perry if the Board of Pardons and Paroles recommends it, according to Texas law.

Doug O’Connell, an attorney for Perry, said in a statement his client is “thrilled” to be free and thanked Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole.

“I spoke with Daniel this afternoon. He is thrilled and elated to be free. Daniel is also optimistic for his future,” O’Connell said in a statement obtained by CNN. “He wishes that this tragic event never happened and wishes he never had to defend himself against Mr. Foster’s unlawful actions. At the same time, Daniel recognizes that the Foster family is grieving. We are anxious to see Daniel reunited with his family and loved ones.”

Prosecutors said Perry, who was stationed at Fort Hood, initiated the fatal encounter when he ran a red light and drove his vehicle into a crowd gathered at the protest. Foster was openly carrying an assault-style rifle – legal in Texas – and approached Perry’s car and motioned for him to lower his window, at which point Perry fatally shot him with a handgun, prosecutors said.

“Today, a convicted murderer will walk the streets of Texas. Texas Republicans have once again proven that they cannot keep the public safe, they are not the party of ‘tough on crime,’ and they are not the party of ‘law and order,’” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement responding to the pardon.

He added: “Make no mistake: Daniel Perry is a murderer who was on a mission to commit violence against Texans, and today our justice system was hijacked for political gain.”

In a statement on Thursday, Foster’s former fiancée, Whitney Mitchell, said she is “heartbroken by this lawlessness,” adding Abbott has shown that “only certain lives matter.”

“He has made us all less safe. Daniel Perry texted his friends about plans to murder a protestor he disagreed with,” she said. “After a lengthy trial, with an abundance of evidence, 12 impartial Texans determined he that he carried out that plan, and murdered the love of my life.”

“With this pardon, the Governor has desecrated the life of a murdered Texan, impugned that jury’s just verdict, and declared that citizens can be killed with impunity as long as they hold political views that are different from those in power,” Mitchell said.

During Perry’s sentencing hearing last May, the prosecution asked that he be sentenced to at least 25 years in prison. They highlighted a stream of racist and inflammatory social media posts Perry wrote prior to the shooting and the defense’s own analysis of his mental disorders and mindset.

“This man is a loaded gun ready to go off on any perceived threat that he thinks he has to address in his black and white world and his us versus them mentality,” a prosecutor said.

Perry’s defense team asked for a sentence of 10 years, citing his lack of criminal history, his psychological issues, including complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and praise from several of his military colleagues.

They argued his actions were justified as self-defense. Perry told police during an interview that he believed Foster was going to aim the firearm at him, according to CNN affiliate KEYE.

Foster’s mother, Sheila Foster, was “in shock” after learning of Abbott’s pardon, according to Quentin Brogdon, the family’s former attorney who spoke with the mother on Thursday.

“To say that she is devastated is an understatement,” Brogdon told CNN in a phone interview.

The family had pursued a civil case against Perry but dropped the case after he was convicted last year, satisfied with the jury “holding him accountable,” Brogdon said, adding the family will be considering any possible legal avenues but the prospects are “grim.”

“It’s hard to believe that the issuance of this pardon does not have some kind of political motivation,” Brogdon said, citing Abbott’s involvement in the case after conservative commentators criticized Perry’s conviction last year.

Perry diagnosed with complex PTSD and autism

For the defense, Greg Hupp, a forensic psychologist who examined Perry twice in 2023, testified during his sentencing he diagnosed him with complex post-traumatic stress disorder and autism spectrum disorder.

Combined with his military experience, Perry had an “us versus them” mentality in which his mindset was, “I protect myself. I am ready for any imminent attack and anything out there can be a potential threat,” Hupp said.

On cross-examination, the prosecution noted that military records did not indicate either of these psychological issues.

During Perry’s sentencing, Mitchell testified through tears how her life had changed since his death.

Mitchell is a quadruple amputee and said Foster had been her sole caretaker for the past 11 years, helping her get ready for the day, eat and work as a costume designer. They had bought a house in Austin together, and she said it’s difficult to stay there without him.

“It’s hard every day that I’m there. It’s hard to sleep in my bed because he’s not there,” she said. “He was my main caregiver for 11 years and I’ve had friends who have been taking care of me and have to learn how to do all that stuff that Garrett was doing for me for a decade, and it’s hard because I had to get comfortable being vulnerable.”

Perry made comments on social media about killing protesters, documents show

Documents related to the case that were unsealed by a Travis County judge following Perry’s conviction show he had a yearslong history of making racist comments in messages and social media posts.

In a Facebook message from May 2020, just weeks before the shooting, Perry told a friend he “might have to kill a few people” who were rioting outside his apartment. The documents also contain a May 2020 text sent by Perry that said, “I might go to Dallas to shoot looters.” Some messages included “white power” memes.

Perry wrote in a 2019 message that it was “to bad we can’t get paid for hunting Muslims in Europe.”

In a June 1, 2020, social media comment, Perry compared the Black Lives Matter movement to “a zoo full of monkeys that are freaking out flinging their sh*t,” the documents show.

Clint Broden, Perry’s attorney, criticized the release of the documents in a statement to CNN, calling it a political decision by prosecutors.

CNN’s Eric Levenson, Lucy Kafanov, Joe Sutton and Nouran Salahieh contributed to this report.

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