PBS NewsHour Wrecks Texas for Abbott Pardon, Pressured by ‘White Right-Wing Conservatives’

News & Politics

The PBS NewsHour on Friday questioned Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s pardon of “convicted killer Daniel Perry” as a sop to “white right-wing conservatives.” Host Geoff Bennett loaded his lead to tar Abbott’s decision right from the start.

Geoff Bennett: Texas Governor Greg Abbott has pardoned a man convicted of fatally shooting a Black Lives Matter protester in the summer of 2020. Abbott had faced pressure to issue the pardon from white right-wing conservatives, including then- Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

Reporter Stephanie Sy also loaded her description, complete with an extraneous mention of the white victim’s “black fiancé,” but barely mentioning that the BLM-supporting victim, Garrett Foster, was also armed and allegedly raised his weapon at Perry. (An AK-47 rifle no less, a tool feared by the liberal media.)

Sy: Yesterday, the Texas State Parole Board, whose members are appointed by the governor, unanimously recommended the release of convicted killer Daniel Perry and the restoration of his firearm rights. He walked free just hours after the pardon was issued. Perry was serving a 25-year prison sentence for the murder of Garrett Foster, an armed white man who was attending a racial justice protest with his black fiance. In court, Perry argued he shot Foster from his car in self-defense. Prosecutors argued he sought out the encounter, and the jury ultimately agreed.

For more on what led to Perry’s pardon, we’re joined by KVUE and Austin-American Statesman investigative reporter.

Tony Plohetski. Tony, welcome to the NewsHour. The board said it did a meticulous review of this case. But critics say this is politics, and you had right-wing pundits like Tucker Carlson calling for this for a year. What was the biggest justification Governor Abbott gave for this pardon?

The pardon power was once strongly embraced by liberals, but no longer, at least when Republican presidents and governors use it.

Tony Plohetski, Austin-American Statesman: Well, to your point, while the parole and pardons board issued this statement saying that they had done a meticulous review, what was absent from their statement was any sort of legal rationale, in terms of recommending that the governor issued this pardon. In a separate proclamation, the governor, however, says that Texas has a very strong, one of the strongest, in his words, self-defense, stand-your-ground laws here in Texas. And so he saw this as upholding that law, and that the conviction of Daniel Perry in this case were, in his words, a travesty of justice.

Sy immediately suggested Abbott was guilty of hypocrisy: 

Sy: How does this fit into Abbott’s broader record on pardons? Is this a governor who has shown mercy to others who have been convicted of such serious crimes?

Plohetski: Well, certainly this adds fuel to the already burning fire between Republicans here in Texas and progressive district attorneys like district attorney Jose Garza here in Austin. There has been a lot of back-and-forth discussion about what crimes get prosecuted and what crimes don’t get prosecuted here in Austin. But with regard to the governor’s record with regard to pardons, over time, the governor has issued precious few of these pardons, usually doing so at the end of the year….

Sy read from a hysterically strong letter from Foster’s fiancé, entering it into the media record:

With this pardon, the governor has desecrated the life of a murdered Texan and U.S. Air Force veteran and impugned that 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.

Sy tried to make Plohetski say the pardon was out of bounds: “Pardons, as you know, Tony, are often political. Does this pardon go beyond a norm? Does it set a new precedent?”

Plohetski hinted agreement, citing concern among “the criminal justice community in Austin” that future similar moves would risk “further upending the criminal justice system.”

This segment was brought to you in part by Cunard.

A transcript is available, click “Expand.”

PBS NewsHour

5/17/24

7:15:42 p.m. (ET)

Geoff Bennett: Texas Governor Greg Abbott has pardoned a man convicted of fatally shooting a Black Lives Matter protester in the summer of 2020. Abbott had faced pressure to issue the pardon from white right-wing conservatives, including then FOX News host Tucker Carlson. Stephanie Sy has the story.

Stephanie Sy: Yesterday, the Texas State Parole Board, whose members are appointed by the governor, unanimously recommended the release of convicted killer Daniel Perry and the restoration of his firearm rights. He walked free just hours after the pardon was issued.

Perry was serving a 25-year prison sentence for the murder of Garrett Foster, an armed white man who was attending a racial justice protest with his Black fiance. In court, Perry argued he shot Foster from his car in self-defense. Prosecutors argued he sought out the encounter, and the jury ultimately agreed.

For more on what led to Perry’s pardon, we’re joined by KVUE and Austin-American Statesman investigative reporter Tony Plohetski.

Tony, welcome to the “NewsHour.”

The board said it did a meticulous review of this case. But critics say this is politics, and you had right-wing pundits like Tucker Carlson calling for this for a year. What was the biggest justification Governor Abbott gave for this pardon?

Tony Plohetski, The Austin-American Statesman: Well, to your point, while the parole and pardons board issued this statement saying that they had done a meticulous review, what was absent from their statement was any sort of legal rationale, in terms of recommending that the governor issued this pardon.

In a separate proclamation, the governor, however, says that Texas has a very strong, one of the strongest, in his words, self-defense, stand-your-ground laws here in Texas. And so he saw this as upholding that law, and that the conviction of Daniel Perry in this case were, in his words, a travesty of justice.

Stephanie Sy: And he also had criticism for Travis County’s DA’s handling of the case, right?

But how does this fit into Abbott’s broader record on pardons? Is this a governor who has shown mercy to others who have been convicted of such serious crimes?

Tony Plohetski: Well, certainly this adds fuel to the already burning fire between Republicans here in Texas and progressive district attorneys like district attorney Jose Garza here in Austin.

There has been a lot of back-and-forth discussion about what crimes get prosecuted and what crimes don’t get prosecuted here in Austin. But with regard to the governor’s record with regard to pardons, over time, the governor has issued precious few of these pardons, usually doing so at the end of the year.

We’re talking, Stephanie, only about a handful per year, most of them nonviolent offenders who were convicted, some of them after serving years or in some cases even decades in prison. This pardon, however, stands very distinct from that, in that Daniel Perry has only been in prison a little more than a year.

Stephanie Sy: I want to read a statement from Whitney Mitchell, Garrett Foster’s surviving fiancee. She was at the protest that night. She testified during the trial.

And she said through her attorney — quote — “With this pardon, the governor has desecrated the life of a murdered Texan and U.S. Air Force veteran and impugned that 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.”

Pardons, as you know, tony, are often political. Does this pardon go beyond a norm? Does it set a new precedent?

Tony Plohetski: I can tell you that that is certainly the concern, not only here in the criminal justice community in Austin, but really across the state, what this might lead to with regard to other cases that are on dockets, not only in Austin, but across the state, whether or not Governor Abbott may lend support to those offenders, should they be convicted sometime down the line, and, in the minds of some people here in Texas, further upending the criminal justice system.

Stephanie Sy: How else are you hearing reaction from this, particularly from the family and Black Lives Matter protesters?

Tony Plohetski: Well, I can assure you that the reaction of Whitney Mitchell is consistent to a lot of feelings here in Austin.

Austin has a very strong community with regard to activism and demonstrations. And so they were alarmed the night that Garrett Foster was killed. But let me assure you that, elsewhere in the state, a deeply conservative state, others view this, other loud voices, including, for example, the attorney general, view this as righting a wrong, that a miscarriage of justice occurred in this case.

And so they see this as the governor using his authority, legally using his partner authority to right that wrong. But, again, the reaction really does range, depending on who you talk to, not only in Austin, but across the state of Texas.

Stephanie Sy: Tony Plohetski with The Austin-American Statesman, thank you so much for joining the “NewsHour.”

Tony Plohetski: Thanks for having me.

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