Army sergeant sentenced to 25 years in prison for murder, but lingering issues remain
Stars and Stripes May 10, 2023
AUSTIN, Texas — Army Sgt. Daniel Perry’s attorney pledged Wednesday to fight for an honorable discharge for the soldier following a judge sentencing Perry to 25 years in prison for shooting and killing an Air Force veteran during a Black Lives Matter protest in 2020.
“We're not done fighting for Daniel Perry, and we won't ever quit,” said Doug O’Connell, Perry’s attorney and a retired Army Special Forces colonel.
Even as the sentence hearing ended Wednesday morning in a Travis County courtroom, lingering issues remained for Perry, including a possible pardon from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for his murder conviction, a pending discharge from the service, and the potential for Army criminal investigators to uncover violations of military laws by Perry and other soldiers identified in court records.
Judge Cliff Brown said Perry received a fair and impartial trial, countering allegations from Perry’s attorneys of jury misconduct.
District Attorney José Garza agreed with the judge when he addressed news reporters after the hearing.
“I hope that the outcome of today's sentencing brings some sense of justice for the Foster family,” he said. “I know that they have waited for so long.”
A jury last month found Perry, 36, guilty of murder in the shooting death of Garrett Foster at Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Austin on July 25, 2020. Foster, a 28-year-old Air Force veteran, was carrying an assault rifle as the protest moved down Congress Avenue when Perry, who was working a side job as a rideshare driver, turned his car into the group of protesters. Perry, who was also armed, said he shot Foster because Foster pointed his rifle at Perry’s car.
Anna Mayo, Foster’s sister, said during a news conference with Garza that her family has been attacked online with hurtful messages and misinformation about her brother as they’ve awaited justice.
“When there's respect to [give] a veteran, my family will be the first to give it,” she said. “To hear so many people blatantly disregard that Garrett was a veteran and tear his character apart … has been the hardest part of this.”
Foster enlisted in the Air Force as a refueler and bomber maintainer in June 2011, according to the Air Force Personnel Center. He separated from the service in May 2013 as an airman first class assigned to Minot Air Force Base, N.D.
Prosecutors argued during the trial that Perry intentionally drove into the crowd. On Tuesday during the first day of the sentence hearing, they presented evidence from Perry’s phone records that included racist comments that the soldier made privately and publicly on social media. The records also showed his disdain for racial justice protesters.
Mayo said the evidence that prosecutors presented during the hearing shocked and repulsed her.
“The racist comments you were so comfortable making were sickening to see,” she said directly to Perry on Wednesday in court. “I hope that this prison sentence changes you entirely.”
In one text message to another soldier, Perry shared a photo of a woman holding a child’s head under water with the words, “When your daughter’s first crush is a little negro boy.”
Soldiers who served alongside Perry, an infantryman assigned to Fort Wainwright, Alaska, testified Tuesday about his character. They said Perry is not a racist. Instead, they described the content as dark humor, or “barracks humor,” that helps ease the stress of Army life, O’Connell said.
Perry, who enlisted in July 2012, had deployed to Afghanistan and Poland, according to the Army. The service moved to discharge him after he was convicted last month.
The Army has reviewed the phone records and is providing them to criminal investigators, said Bryce Dubee, an Army spokesman.
“The Army has reviewed the evidence released by the Travis County District Court and has passed the information to the Army Criminal Investigation Division to conduct an independent review of the allegations contained within the document,” he said.
O’Connell said the prosecution’s release of Perry’s phone records was “character assassination,” and the Army is wrong in the move.
“They have not had access to the court’s file. When they tell you that [they've] looked at evidence, that's not correct. What they've been able to see potentially is media reports, and other speculation or other descriptions,” O’Connell said.
Looming over the sentencing was Abbott’s pledge to pardon Perry because the governor said he believes the jury’s verdict contradicts the state’s 'Stand Your Ground' laws of self-defense.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has said it is already reviewing Perry’s trial to present a recommendation to Abbott about a pardon. Garza said the board has agreed to allow him to present his evidence, and O’Connell said they will now reach out to the board as well.
“We will be providing them, pushing them information that we think is very, very relevant,” O’Connell said.
The defense attorney also said he plans to submit an appeal for Perry.