Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott says he is “working as swiftly” as possible to pardon a U.S. Army sergeant who was just convicted Friday of murdering a Black Lives Matter protester in 2020 just blocks from the Texas state Capitol. Daniel Perry was also convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for fatally shooting 28-year-old Air Force veteran Garrett Foster. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles said Monday it is now launching an investigation into Governor Abbott’s request for an expedited pardon. We’re joined by Hiram Gilberto Garcia, an independent journalist who live-streamed that night and was the first witness on the stand to testify at Daniel Perry’s murder trial, and Rick Cofer, a former Travis County assistant district attorney.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we go right now to the capital of Texas, to Austin, where Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott says he’s “working as swiftly” as possible to pardon a U.S. Army sergeant who was just convicted Friday of murdering a Black Lives Matter activist in 2020 just blocks from the Texas state Capitol building. The move comes after an Austin jury heard evidence in an eight-day trial, deliberated for 17 hours, before it convicted Daniel Perry of murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for fatally shooting 28-year-old Garrett Foster, who was an Air Force veteran.
JURY FOREPERSON: We, the jury, find the defendant Daniel Perry guilty of the offense of murder as alleged in count one of the indictment, signed by the foreperson.
AMY GOODMAN: Perry was working as a ride-share driver when he drove his car into the protest, after he had earlier tweeted he, quote, “might have to kill a few people on my way to work.” Garrett Foster was pushing his fiancée’s wheelchair and was legally carrying an AK-47 rifle at the protest, when Foster shot him four times with his .357 Magnum pistol, later telling police Foster did not point his rifle at him, but, quote, “I didn’t want to give him a chance to aim at me,” he said.
Garrett Foster, the murder victim, and his fiancée, Whitney Mitchell, had been together since they were 17 years old. Foster became one of Mitchell’s primary caretakers when she went into septic shock at the age of 19 and lost all four of her limbs. Mitchell’s mother, Patricia Kirven, called Foster her daughter’s fifth limb. This is Whitney Mitchell responding to Governor Abbott’s request for a pardon of Daniel Perry after his guilty verdict came down, speaking to KXAN News.
WHITNEY MITCHELL: I was disgusted, and I was — it was shocking to see, to see that after everything that me and Garrett’s family have been through to get to this point. I was so relieved to see justice for Garrett. And then, just for all of that to just be completely taken away is like extremely horrifying, and I don’t understand it.
AMY GOODMAN: Several people were filming on the night of the protest, July 25th, 2020. This is video of the shooting that was taken by Robert Garrett and then by our next guest, Hiram Gilberto. A warning to our viewers and listeners: This footage includes gun violence. The footage was compiled by KXAN.
PROTESTERS: [inaudible]! Every time! [inaudible]! Every time! [inaudible]! Every time! [inaudible]! Every time!
PROTESTER: Everybody, back up!
AMY GOODMAN: In his murder trial, Daniel Perry used the state’s “stand your ground” law of self-defense to defend his actions. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles said Monday it’s now launching an investigation into Governor Abbott’s request for an expedited pardon. A court docket had mistakenly listed Perry’s sentencing hearing as being scheduled for 9:15 a.m. today, but the sentencing has actually not even been set. There has just been the murder verdict.
For more, we’re joined in Austin by two people. Hiram Gilberto Garcia is an independent journalist who live-streamed that night and was the first witness on the stand to testify for Daniel Perry’s murder trial. Also with us, Rick Cofer, former assistant district attorney for Travis County, which includes Austin, now a criminal defense attorney.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Hiram, let’s begin with you, the horror of what took place. Why don’t you lay out what you testified in this trial, and your response to the verdict being a murder verdict, but the governor saying he will pardon Mr. Perry? Hiram, I don’t know if you heard me, but I was just asking you to respond to the governor saying he is going to pardon Perry, who’s just been convicted of murder, and to describe what you said on the witness stand, what you saw that day in 2020 as you were filming.
HIRAM GILBERTO GARCIA: Of course. Thank you so much for having me.
July 25th was a particularly difficult day. Just like I had done the last previous 50 days, I was live-streaming and documenting the protests in 2020. And explicitly, my role there was to be a journalist and a documentarian.
That night, the crowd was making their way up a very populated and important street in Austin called Congress Avenue. There was quite a few protesters, marchers, who were peacefully chanting and marching. Beyond just isolated incidents of small vandalism, the crowd was peaceful. As the crowd was approaching 4th Street and Congress, specifically when I observed the most dense part of the crowd crossing the intersection, I noticed that a vehicle drove into what seemed to be the crowd at what I believed was a high rate of speed. I heard the honk. You know, I heard a thump. I thought somebody had been, unfortunately, ran over in that instance, and I tried to run to render aid. But as soon as I made my way towards where I thought the incident had occurred, I heard gunshots and ran the other direction. It was an absolutely devastating scene. I was sure I was witnessing a mass shooting at that moment.
AMY GOODMAN: And then what did you see, Hiram?
HIRAM GILBERTO GARCIA: And shortly after that, you know, I had noticed that someone that was marching and protesting had been shot. Protesters were emotionally distressed. And, you know, I noticed that a lot of folks were in shock, screaming, yelling. And just really shortly after, I found out that Garrett Foster had been the one who had been shot. And according to the folks that were witnessing, they told me that he took significant gunfire and that it wasn’t looking very promising. Just in that moment, you know, folks were feeling very pessimistic about what was happening.
AMY GOODMAN: What was it like to be the first witness in the trial?
HIRAM GILBERTO GARCIA: It was certainly extremely difficult, you know, going up on that stand as a witness. I wanted to make sure that it was clear that, as a journalist, I was only giving factual information about my observations, you know, but, obviously, that was very difficult to do in a very emotional situation. I think that, you know, ultimately, I was able to achieve my goal and relay exactly what I observed. But, absolutely, you know, the emotion in that courtroom was high. The attorney that was — the defense attorney that was cross-examining me certainly was very emotional, as well. And many folks that were live-tweeting called a portion of my interview just really highly emotional and a little bit heated, so that really added to the intensity of that moment.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you know Doug [sic] Garrett?
HIRAM GILBERTO GARCIA: I did come to become familiar with Garrett. I couldn’t —
AMY GOODMAN: Rather, yeah, Garrett Foster, I should say.
HIRAM GILBERTO GARCIA: Yeah, absolutely. Garrett was somebody that was out protesting and marching on a daily basis. We’re talking about, by July 25th, there had been 50 continuous days of Garrett showing up with his spouse, Whitney, protesting. And so, during that time, I was able to interview them quite a few times for my live stream and for my documentation. And in that time, I became familiar with how Garrett and Foster, you know, worked together and why they were down there.
AMY GOODMAN: And your response to the governor of Texas, Governor Abbott, following an outcry from Fox, particularly the pushing of Tucker Carlson, calling for the pardoning of the person who’s been convicted of murder?
HIRAM GILBERTO GARCIA: Absolutely. I mean, I find it completely devastating to learn that our governor is willing to circumvent what’s already a really important procedure for a justice system in place. The jury sat down for two weeks, you know, almost on a daily basis, learning cases — you know, I mean, facts of the case every single day. I was present at that shooting, and even I was still learning completely new and unknown facts of this case. And it’s hard for me to imagine, as somebody that didn’t sit a single day in that trial, that Greg Abbott has full knowledge or understanding of why that jury came to that decision, which is why I feel strongly that this is a mistake by Governor Abbott. You know, this case took two weeks of deliberations. I can’t imagine anyone who sat there — or, didn’t sit there those two weeks could have a fair analysis of what happened.
AMY GOODMAN: Rick Cofer, you’re the former assistant district attorney for Travis County, now a defense attorney. If you can talk about the significance of the governor’s weighing in right after the murder conviction, before the sentencing, and what this means?
RICK COFER: This is unprecedented in Texas legal history, which is what makes it so shocking. I was initially surprised by the verdict in the Perry case. Widely, it was considered a strong self-defense claim in a case that the district attorney was likely to lose. But trials can go any number of different directions, and the jury found Daniel Perry guilty. That’s one thing.
Last year, the governor pardoned seven people; the year before that, two. You are more likely to be struck by lightning or to win the Texas lottery than to receive a pardon from the governor, let alone a recommendation for a pardon in the middle of trial court proceedings. Daniel Perry has been found guilty by a jury, but he has not yet been sentenced. Technically, under even the Board of Parole and Pardons procedures, he’s not even eligible today to apply for a pardon, because he hasn’t been sentenced. So, wildly unexpected and wildly inconsistent with Texas law.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you told the Austin American-Statesman, “It’s what happens in Uganda or El Salvador. Total abrogation of the rule of law. And what’s even worse is that Abbott knows better.” Explain.
RICK COFER: At the core of the rule of law is the concept that the law applies equally to everyone. Daniel Perry was convicted by a jury, a jury that swore an oath to fairly and impartially follow the law, which heard two weeks of evidence and testimony, which deliberated for 16 hours, which was instructed by the judge to only find a verdict of guilty if they believed beyond a reasonable doubt that Daniel Perry did not act in self-defense. Daniel Perry has every right to seek judicial scrutiny of the verdict. He can appeal to the state courts, the federal courts. He can file writs. But he is not entitled to a pardon at this time as a matter of equity.
The governor can recommend what he wants. But here’s the upshot. Daniel Perry was treated the same as any person charged with murder. Governor Greg Abbott didn’t see a single minute of testimony. He hasn’t reviewed a single piece of evidence that was admitted into the record. Instead, Greg Abbott’s opinion is what has driven his decision to announce a pardon. The rule of law means that jury verdicts, while not final, should be treated as final until reviewed by higher courts.
What happens in nations like El Salvador and Uganda, and I chose those nations specifically — I do to charitable work in Uganda, I’m familiar with the court system — is, when judges and juries make rulings that the powerful interests don’t like, the government ignores the courts. The government substitutes its own opinion of what should happen for that of a jury or that of a court.
That’s exactly what happened here in Texas. Governor Abbott, it appears, based principally on media reports from Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, decided that this jury had gotten it wrong, and the governor decided that his opinion counted more than the jurors. That’s not how the rule of law works. That’s not how due process works. It’s a scary precedent for what is to come.
AMY GOODMAN: You’ve noted Garrett Foster was killed protesting the killing of George Floyd, and that in 2022 the Texas Board of Pardons unanimously recommended that Floyd be pardoned for a drug charge in which a crooked cop planted drugs, and yet you now have this situation, where — explain.
RICK COFER: And I should be clear: The officer involved in the arrest and felony conviction of George Floyd almost 20 years ago has admitted to lying in the search warrant affidavit for Floyd. It’s disputed whether or not drugs were planted. That officer is currently pending charges for murder, unrelatedly, in Harris County.
But here’s the upshot. Garrett Foster was killed by Daniel Perry while protesting the killing of George Floyd. About six months ago, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously recommended that Governor Abbott pardon George Floyd for about a 20-year-old drug conviction out of Houston. The politics of that looked bad for Greg Abbott in conservative circles, and he used his power and influence to have that recommendation withdrawn on procedural grounds. Now, without an ounce or a scintilla of appellate review, without a sentence even having been issued, Governor Abbott has made a decision that Daniel Perry deserves a pardon, while George Floyd’s pardon languishes in purgatory. It’s the type of story that if you were to read it in a novel, you wouldn’t believe, and yet here we are. And in Texas, truth is stranger than fiction, and apparently politics counts more than law.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Hiram Gilberto Garcia, does this make you afraid to continue to film? I mean, you have a car that moved into protesters, and, of course, it’ll hit journalists or anyone else in its way — it could. And then you have the shooting, a murder conviction, and then — well, it’s not clear. The governor says he’s going to move expeditiously on a pardon, but we will see what happens.
HIRAM GILBERTO GARCIA: I wouldn’t say fear would ever keep me from going and documenting and doing my job, although, you know, I do take safety precautions every time I film any public demonstration, in Texas or anywhere in the nation. It’s really common to see guns, high-powered rifles, and individuals with really heightened emotions. So, every time I’m out, you know, I’m wearing a full bulletproof vest, you know, and just hoping for the best, ultimately, training, doing my best for deescalation.
But, ultimately, you know, this is a reminder to me of the importance of having a document, a video or a visual of how these movements unfold and why people make the decisions they make, because, as we’ve seen, without the video evidence, we really wouldn’t be aware of situations like what happened with George Floyd and many, many, many other really important, historic, you know, events that have shaped this nation. So, I’m going to keep doing my job, but with a bulletproof vest.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. And, Rick Cofer, to your point of you might expect this in countries like Uganda and El Salvador, maybe there they’re saying, “We’re only following the model of the United States.”
RICK COFER: We have to be the leader in the rule of law and democratic values. We have to lead by example. We have to show that elections are determinative, and not the threat of force. And we have to show that our judicial system is fair and that it treats all people equally. The proposed pardon of Daniel Perry cuts at and abrogates the very essence of the rule of law. And sadly, your listeners and viewers should expect that this pardon will eventually be granted. Politics has trumped justice in this instance, and theater has trumped the law.
AMY GOODMAN: Rick Cofer, we want to thank you for being with us, former assistant district attorney for Travis County, and Hiram Gilberto Garcia, independent journalist, first witness in the murder trial.
That does it for this segment. Coming up, the Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation into a leak of highly classified Pentagon intelligence documents about U.S. spying on its adversaries — and its allies. We’ll speak with investigative journalist James Bamford. Stay with us.