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STATE

Daniel Perry released from Texas prison within an hour after Gov. Abbott's pardon

Serena Lin Tony Plohetski John C. Moritz
Austin American-Statesman

Daniel Perry, a former Army sergeant convicted of killing a Black Lives Matter protester in downtown Austin in 2020, was freed from prison Thursday within an hour of Gov. Greg Abbott signing a pardon proclamation in a case that triggered a political and legal firestorm.

In a series of rapid-fire developments in a less than two-hour span, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended that Perry be pardoned on the murder conviction. Abbott then granted the full pardon to Perry, leading to his release from the Mac Stringfellow Unit in Rosharon, about 20 miles south of downtown Houston.

Perry, 36 at the time of his April 2023 conviction, may also be able to apply to have his record expunged, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

The board its recommendation to pardon Perry and restore his firearm rights in a statement posted on its website Thursday. Its decision came after a "meticulous review of pertinent documents, from police reports to court records, witness statements, and interviews with individuals linked to the case," the statement said.

In July 2020, Perry shot and killed Garrett Foster after Perry drove into a racial justice protest on Congress Avenue. Perry claimed that he shot Foster, who was carrying an AK-47 rifle, in self-defense. During Perry’s trial last year, prosecutors argued that Perry had sought out confrontation. 

Daniel Perry returns to his chair after being sentenced May 10, 2023. to 25 years for the 2020 murder of Garrett Foster.

"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," Abbott said in a statement Thursday. "I thank the Board for its thorough investigation, and I approve their pardon recommendation.”

In a Thursday, Abbott took aim at Travis County District Attorney José Garza, writing that Garza "demonstrated unethical and biased misuse of his office in prosecuting Daniel Scott Perry."

Less than 24 hours after a jury in April 2023 found Perry guilty of murder, Abbott said on  that he would approve a pardon if one were recommended by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. The announcement came after prominent conservative figures called on him to undo Perry's conviction.

Shortly after Abbott’s announcement, a state district judge unsealed court records that contained Perry’s previously unreleased messages and social media posts, which contained racist rhetoric.

"Daniel Perry was imprisoned for 372 days and lost the military career that he loved," Doug O'Connell, an attorney who represents Perry, said in a statement. "The action by Governor Abbott and the Pardon Board corrects the courtroom travesty which occurred over a year ago and represents justice in this case.

"I spoke to Daniel Perry this afternoon. He is thrilled and elated to be free. Daniel is also optimistic for his future."

Garza condemned the actions of the parole board and Abbott, writing in a statement that they have "put their politics over justice and made a mockery of our legal system."

"They have sent a message to Garrett Foster’s family, to his partner, and to our community that his life does not matter.  They have sent the message that the service of the Travis County community members who served on the grand jury and trial jury does not matter," Garza said. "We will not stop fighting for justice. "

Daniel Perry walks to the courtroom during his trial in March 2023.

In a written statement to the American-Statesman, Foster's partner, Whitney Mitchell, decried Abbott's decision and said that there was evidence that Perry intended to murder a protester.

"I loved Garrett Foster. I thought we were going to grow old together," Mitchell said in the statement, provided via her attorney, Angelica Cogliano. "He was the love of my life. He still is. I am heartbroken by this lawlessness. Governor Abbott has shown that to him, only certain lives matter. He has made us all less safe.

"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."

Gubernatorial pardons of high-profile or controversial offenders in Texas historically have been the exception, not the rule.

Abbott frequently announces his pardons or grants clemency in conjunction with the holiday season, and they often involve people convicted of nonviolent crimes committed years, and sometimes decades, earlier.

Three days before Christmas 2023, the governor granted three requests for pardons and clemency. One was for someone who was convicted for theft in 1990 and sentenced to two years of deferred adjudication. Another was for a 1978 theft that was punished by a $500 fine. The third was for a conviction on a possession of marijuana charge in 2010 that resulted in a three-day jail sentence.

Two years earlier, offenders with somewhat more serious convictions — one of robbery that came with a probation sentence and one of possession of a weapon where alcohol is served that carried no jail time — were among the eight holiday-season pardons issued by Abbott.

This is a developing story; check back for details.