AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — An alternate juror in the trial of a U.S. Army sergeant convicted of murder said Wednesday that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s rush for a pardon is an “egregious overreach” to wipe aside the jury’s unanimous decision over a 2020 shooting during a Black Lives Matter protest.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Jere Dowell said prosecutors put on a convincing case against Daniel Perry, who was in his car working as a ride-share driver when he shot 28-year-old Garrett Foster, who had been legally carrying an AK-47 while marching with demonstrators through downtown Austin.
As an alternate, Dowell did not have a vote in convicting Perry but said she was in the room for deliberations and she agreed with the verdict handed down Friday.
“I just think it’s a travesty,” Dowell said of Abbott already seeking a pardon.
Her comments are the first time a juror has spoken publicly since Abbott, a Republican, announced Saturday he would use the power of his office and seek to wipe away the verdict. Legal experts have called the governor’s move highly unusual and prosecutors condemned it as troubling.
Abbott made his intentions known on Twitter less than 24 hours after the verdict and amid outrage from conservative voices on social media and television over the conviction.
“I just thought it was an egregious overreach of power,” Dowell said. “It’s undermining due process. It’s undermining democracy. I was upset, honestly.”
Perry, who was on active duty at the time of the shooting, is still awaiting sentencing from a judge. He faces up to life in prison.
Dowell, who said she has not previously supported the three-term governor politically, said she worried that Abbott wading into the case could cause other jurors to second-guess their decisions. She said the verdict was strictly based on evidence, following 17 hours of deliberation, and politics did not factor in.
“If your governor is coming out and saying you made the wrong decision, that may make you think twice about what you said or what you felt,” she told AP.
The AP has attempted to reach all jurors who served during the weeklong trial in Austin. Others have declined to speak about the case or not returned messages.
Spokespersons for Abbott did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment Wednesday.
The trial had received little national attention prior to Friday’s verdict and Abbott had not previously commented on the case publicly. He has has not elaborated on how he reached his conclusion about Perry’s case, and his office on Monday referred questions to his statement on Twitter.
The encounter leading up to the shooting began when Perry turned onto a street and into one of the demonstrations that swept the country after Minneapolis police killed of George Floyd.
In video that was streamed live on Facebook, a car can be heard honking amid the downtown crowd. Then, several shots ring out, and protesters begin screaming and scattering.
Perry drove off, later calling police to report the shooting, and officers arrived to find Foster shot. What led up to the gunfire was a core question in the trial that resulted in Perry’s conviction.
Dowell said her confidence in the verdict was based in part on testimony that Foster’s gun was pointing up — close to his ear — moments before the shooting and that Foster was at least a foot away from Perry’s car.
She said prosecutors also presented text messages between Perry and a friend, exchanged prior to the shooting, discussing other cases in which protesters had been shot and whether it amounted to self-defense.
Witnesses testified that Foster never raised his rifle at Perry, and prosecutors said the sergeant could have driven off rather than opening fire with a handgun. Perry didn’t testify. But his defense attorneys have said Foster pointed his gun at the driver and that the shooting was self-defense.
“I look forward to approving the Board’s pardon as soon as it hits my desk,” Abbott tweeted Saturday.
Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza, whose office prosecuted the case, said Wednesday in an interview on CNN that it appeared clear that neither Abbott nor his staff had watched the trial. Garza, who ran as a progressive when he was elected in 2020, has previously been a target of criticism from the governor.
The district attorney said he did not know why Abbott was pushing for the pardon: “I don’t know what’s in the governor’s mind.”
Garza has requested to meet with the Texas Board of Pardon and Paroles and present evidence. The board did not immediately respond to questions emailed Wednesday.
Clint Broden, Perry’s attorney, has said they did not petition the governor for a pardon prior to Abbott’s tweet. He has also filed a motion seeking a new trial.
Associated Press writers Paul J. Weber, Jake Bleiberg in Dallas, Jim Vertuno and researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.