Set the Killers Free: the Pardoning of Daniel Perry

Daniel Perry awaiting the verdict at his trial for the murder of Garrett Foster.

In one of the most egregious uses of the pardon power since Bill Clinton freed billionaire tax cheat, Israeli agent and international fugitive Marc Rich as the clock struck midnight on his lamentable administration, last week Texas Gov. Greg Abbott freed an avowed racist who ran a red light, before plunging his car into a crowd of protesters and fatally shooting a man who was trying to protect people from being run over. Abbott granted the killer a pardon, even though the gunman had been obsessed for months with the idea of killing BLM activists.

Just before 10 o’clock on the night of July 25, 2020, a crowd of anti-police brutality protesters were crossing the intersection of Fourth Street and Congress Avenue in downtown Austin, Texas, when a car ran a red light and repeatedly drove into the mass of people. 

Several of the protesters approached the car to get the driver to stop menacing pedestrians. One of them was Garrett Foster, a 28-year-old Air Force veteran, who was pushing his wheelchair-bound fiancé, Whitney Mitchell, a quadruple amputee, across the intersection as the car honked at and rammed into the protesters. Foster was carrying an AK-47 rifle for protection, as allowed by Texas’ open-carry law.

As Foster approached the car, telling the driver to “move on, move on,” Daniel Perry, a 30-year-old US Army sergeant, took out his own gun, a .357 Magnum revolver, shot Foster five times through the car’s window and fled the scene. Foster, who like Perry was white, died at the scene.

Later, Perry called the police and reported his version of what happened. Seeking to shield himself behind Texas’s expansive Stand Your Ground Law, Perry claimed he shot in self-defense after Foster came toward him with his AK-47 slung over his shoulder. None of the witnesses reported seeing Foster point his weapon toward Perry or his car. And video of the incident showed Foster keeping his rifle at what gun enthusiasts call the “low-ready” position.

Almost before Foster’s blood had dried, Perry had become a hero of the vigilante right, an adult version of the man-child Kyle Rittenhouse. And a Texan, too, with all that implies in the mythology of American masculinity. Perry was portrayed as a brawny defender of the civil order, a regular American who’d struck back at the lawlessness and anarchy, which many conservative blowhards fumed, had taken over the streets of urban America after the murder of George Floyd.

For months, it seemed as if Perry, a former soldier at Ft. Hood, might not even be charged with killing Garrett Foster. Despite evidence to the contrary, the police seemed to have bought his story of being fearful that Foster was prepared to shoot him and the Austin cops had little sympathy for anyone demonstrating against police brutality. Austin’s police chief originally told the press, “There were two volleys of gunfire,” falsely implying that Foster had fired at Perry. The lead detective in the case, David Fugitt, would later voluntarily testify for the defense, not the prosecution and the leadership of the Austin Police Department drafted a letter advocating for Daniel Perry’s pardon, claiming that his conviction was based on “conjecture,” “innuendo” and “character assassination.” The two-page letter on Department stationery was signed by interim Chief Robin Henderson. After consulting with lawyers for the City, Henderson decided not to submit the letter. It’s clear that the Austin cops wanted to extend the same qualified immunity they enjoy to the white-power vigilantes, who kill their critics.

It’s worth noting here that while more people were killed by US law enforcement in 2023 than at any other time in the last 10 years, total law enforcement on duty deaths for 2023 were at their lowest level since 1959. In other words, police are killing more and being killed less.

Then nearly a year after the slaying of Foster, Perry was indicted by a Travis County grand jury on charges of murder, aggravated assault and deadly conduct. He didn’t spend more than a few hours in jail, however. After Perry turned himself in, he was almost immediately released on a $300,000 bond, raised from his cadre of rightwing supporters.

The week-long trial took place in late March and early April of 2023. The prosecutors portrayed Perry as a man who couldn’t keep his anger under control, a man consumed with racial animas who’d fantasized about killing protesters. The defense’s arguments that Foster had aimed his gun at Perry, were undermined by his own comments in his videotaped interview with police. The jury also rejected the defense’s contention that Perry was unable to control his emotions because of his autism. In closing arguments, prosecutor Elizabeth Lawson said: “He did not have to engage with the protesters, Garrett Foster, or anybody else. You cannot shoot and kill someone for walking up to you while exercising the right to open carry.”

After two days of deliberation, the jury convicted Perry of murder and the judge later sentenced him to a term of 25 years in prison. 

Not even a full day after Perry’s conviction, Abbott abruptly announced his intent to pardon Perry for the murder, something Abbott could only do after the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles handed him the legally required recommendation. “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 brayed on Twitter. “I look forward to approving the Board’s pardon recommendation as soon as it hits my desk.” Rep. Dan Crenshaw said that not only should Perry be pardoned, but he should be compensated for the inconvenience of being convicted by a jury of his peers. 

But Perry proved a strange role model for the moral guardians of the right, who’d spent much of the previous four years fulminating about sex trafficking and the grooming of underage girls. After Perry’s conviction, a tranche of text messages was released which showed that Perry had exchanged flirtations online messages with a 16-year-old girl, after searching for “good chats to meet young girls.” 

In one of the chats a young girl says, “Ok so im 16 ill be 17 in 3 months u sure u want me?” 

“What state,” Perry asked. “Also promise me no nudes until you are old enough to be of age…I am going to bed come up with a reason why I should be your boyfriend before I wake up.”

The lionizing of Perry was accompanied by an all-out assault on the character of Garrett Foster, who was smeared as an Antifa terrorist. Even the police union joined in the trashing. Without any evidence, Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Union, said Foster was  “looking for confrontation and he found it.” Even though Texas is an open-carry state, Garrett said Foster was on the police’s “radar because he would commonly come to the rallies with the AK-47. Our individuals who were responsible to monitor people with firearms, he was on the radar already.” But Perry, who’d spoken of his desire to kill protesters, had escaped the radar of the police.

Garrett Foster and his fiancé Whitney Mitchell.

Perry’s defenders, from the police association to the governor’s office to FoxNews pundits like Tucker Carlson, claim that Foster had aimed his rifle at Perry, thus triggering Texas’s Stand Your Ground law enabling Perry to shoot Foster with impunity. But Perry’s own account undermined this assertion. In his initial interview, Perry told Austin police he feared Foster might aim at him and shoot him before he could. “I believe he was going to aim [his rifle] at me. I didn’t want to give him a chance.” When Foster’s gun was recovered by Austin police, the safety was on and there was no round in the chamber.

By all accounts, Foster was a small-l libertarian, who was raised in a conservative family, but he’d become appalled by police brutality.  Foster was a caring and tender man. He and Whitney had been together since they met in high school, when they were both 17. Two years. later Whitney suffered from septic shock, leading to the loss of all four limbs. Foster didn’t abandon her. Instead, he became one of her caretakers, bathing her, clothing her, brushing her teeth and braiding her hair. He cut short his career in the Air Force when Whitney sank into a depression without him. Whitney was black and Garrett white, but that was never an issue for them or their friends and family. They planned to marry and had just bought a house together. After the murder of George Floyd, both Whitney and Garrett were outraged at the injustice and began attending BLM rallies in Austin. By the night of his murder, Whitney and Garrett had participated in at least 50 consecutive BLM protests, Garrett pushing Whitney’s wheelchair, as she often held a sign in her lap reading, “Silence is violence.” This was the quality of the man described by the cackling right as a thug, a rioter and a terrorist.

Perry, on the other hand, was a self-confessed racist. “Black Lives Matter is racist to white people,” Perry fumed. “It is official I am a racist because I do not agree with people acting like animals at the zoo.” In a Facebook post on June 1, 2020, Perry wrote that “Now it is my turn to get banned (from Facebook) by comparing the black lives matter movement to a zoo full of monkeys that are freaking out flinging their shit.”

He openly fantasized about killing them and how he would get away with it, writing: 

Perry: “I might have to kill a few people on my way to work they are rioting outside my apartment complex.”

Justin Smith: “Can you legally do so?”

Perry: “If they attack me or try to pull me out of my car then yes.”

Justin Smith: “If I just do it because I am driving by then no.”

After the murder of George Floyd sparked nationwide protests, Perry wrote of his desire to: “Go to Dallas to shoot looters.” A few days later in a Facebook chat, Perry vowed: “No protestors go near me or my car.”

“Can you catch me a negro daddy,” a man replied.

“That is what I am hoping,” Perry responded.

A month before the shooting, Perry wrote: “The blacks … gathering up in a group I think something is about to happen…I wonder if they will let my [sic] cut the ears off of people who’s decided to commit suicide by me.”

Perry told people he believed one of the goals of the BLM movement was to evict his parents from their house so that it could be given to poor Blacks: “My parents own a 4-bedroom house and the BLM movement believes that my parents should give their house to a poor black family and pretty much live in a one-bedroom house that they should buy with money they don’t have.”

Perry mused about having shot “an Afghan in the chest with a 50 cal,” which he justified by saying, “They are not real people.” A year earlier, Perry had written wistfully to a friend about his military career: “To [sic] bad we can’t get paid for hunting Muslims in Europe.”

Generally, pardons don’t come easy in Texas. Indeed, Abbott has one of the stingiest pardon records of any government, typically issuing only a few at the end of the year for minor, nonviolent offenses, after the prisoners had served many years behind bars. In fact, the Houston Chronicle reported that this was “the first time in at least decades that a Texas governor has pardoned someone for a serious violent crime, let alone murder.” Perry’s pardon came after he’d served little more than a year in prison from his 25-year sentence, after being indicted by a grand jury and convicted by a unanimous jury verdict. 

Abbott promised to pardon Daniel Perry before the pardon board even met to discuss his case. Of course, Abbott appointed the board members so he’d already forecast their decision before Perry’s appeals were exhausted. But the board’s inevitable ruling to recommend freeing Perry lacked any legal rationale. This is because there wasn’t one. Texas’s Stand Your Ground Law, which Abbott cited, actually applied more to Foster, who was trying to protect his disabled fiancee and other pedestrians, than Perry, who was never threatened at all. In condemning Abbott’s pardon for Perry, Travis County DA José Garza said, “The [Pardon] board and the governor have put their politics over justice and made a mockery of our legal system.” 

Both men were white. Both men were veterans of the military. Both men were advocates of the Second Amendment. So why did Abbott come down so categorically in favor of Perry, who fatally shot a man for simply carrying a gun? Naked political ambition.

Even before Perry went on trial, FoxNew’s Tucker Carlson had been needling Abbott for not preemptively pardoning the shooter. He continued to goad Abbott after the verdict, which Carlson denounced as a “legal atrocity,” was announced, saying on his show that night: “So that is Greg Abbott’s position, there is no right of self-defense in Texas.” The next day Abbott capitulated, saying he would approve the pardon board’s recommendation “as soon as it hits my desk.”

Under the logic of the new vigilantism, Foster deserved to be killed for taking to the streets to express his political views and Perry deserved to be freed for having the courage to kill someone who was nothing more than a “rioter,” a threat, violent or not, to the civil order. The right of self-defense only applies to the right people.

“I loved Garrett Foster. I thought we were going to grow old together,” wrote Foster’s fiancee Whitney Mitchell in a letter to the Texas Observer after learning of Abbott’s pardon of Perry. “He was the love of my life. He still is. I am heartbroken by this lawlessness. With this pardon, the Governor has desecrated the life of a murdered Texan and US Air Force veteran, and impugned [the] jury’s just verdict. He has declared that Texans who hold political views that are different from his—and different from those in power—can be killed in this State with impunity.”

Greg Abbott’s unconditional pardon allowed Daniel Perry to be set free last Thursday. All of Perry’s civil rights were restored, including his right to own, carry and use firearms. Perry was pardoned despite showing no signs of contrition or remorse. Neither did Abbot, who, despite being confined to a wheelchair himself, couldn’t summon a word of sympathy for the family, friends or fiancé of Garrett Foster, the man who for 14 years had lovingly tended to his girlfriend Whitney, acting as “her fifth limb,” until one fateful night on streets of Austin, when Garrett intervened to protect her and others from a rampaging motorist, that limb too was amputated by the hate-fueled man Abbott praised as a hero and put back out on the streets.

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3