Texas governor pardons convicted killer: New York’s AG calls for federal civil rights investigation

May 30, 2024 Robert Abruzzese, Courthouse Editor
Attorney General Letitia James calls for a federal civil rights investigation into the murder of Garrett Foster after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott pardoned the convicted killer, Daniel Perry. Photo: Bebeto Matthews/AP
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After the governor of Texas allowed a convicted killer to go free, New York Attorney General Letitia James has joined a coalition of 13 attorneys general to ask the U.S. Department of Justice to open a civil rights investigation into the July 2020 murder of Garrett Foster.

Foster was shot and killed by Daniel Perry while protesting racial injustice in Austin, Texas. Despite Perry’s conviction for murder in April 2023, Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently pardoned him, citing the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which broadly justifies self-defense in criminal cases.

“Garrett Foster was exercising his constitutional right to protest when he was murdered by Daniel Perry,” said Attorney General James. “The facts of this case were egregious, and so too is the reality that a state would so blatantly condone hateful, murderous conduct. When states fail to protect their residents from such violations of our civil rights, it’s imperative that DOJ steps in and ensures that justice is served. We urge DOJ to investigate this incident and demonstrate that this will not be tolerated in America.”

In June 2020, Foster participated in a protest against racial injustice in Austin. Perry drove his car into a crowd of protesters, prompting Foster, who was legally carrying a firearm, to approach Perry’s vehicle to protect his fellow protesters. Perry then opened fire, killing Foster.

Perry claimed self-defense during his trial, but his internet history and pre-shooting activities indicated a premeditated intent to disrupt the protest. He had searched for federal ballistics information and sent texts about potentially shooting “looters” and targeted protest locations. He also shared racist and Islamophobic messages advocating vigilante murder. A jury found Perry guilty of murder.

Despite the gross things shared by Perry online, or perhaps because of them, Governor Abbott announced his intent to pardon Perry less than 24 hours after the conviction.

According to Texas Penal Code, under section 9.32, a person is allowed to use deadly force in self-defense if they are in a place where they have a right to be, have not provoked the other person, and are not involved in criminal activity. They do not have to retreat before using deadly force. Additionally, when deciding if the use of deadly force was reasonable, it cannot be considered whether the person chose not to retreat.

Perry’s actions appear to violate Section 9.32 because he drove his car into a crowd of protesters, which can be seen as provocative, and his premeditated intent to disrupt the protest undermines his self-defense claim. Additionally, his pre-shooting activities and shared messages suggest he was engaged in criminal activity, contradicting the requirements of Section 9.32.

Despite Perry’s pardon in Texas, the coalition argues that federal prosecution is still possible. They emphasize that DOJ has historically used federal civil rights laws to address acts of hate, particularly when states fail to hold violators accountable.

Joining Attorney General James in the call for a DOJ investigation are the attorneys general of Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and the District of Columbia.

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