The white former Texas police officer convicted of murder for shooting an unarmed, black teenager to death with an assault rifle was sentenced to 15 years in prison Wednesday.
Prosecutors called Roy Oliver a “killer in blue,” and asked the jury who found him guilty -- and who, under Texas law, also impose sentence -- to sentence him to life in prison, according to the Dallas Morning News.
Instead, jurors sentenced Oliver to one year behind bars for every year that Jordan Edwards, 15, was alive before Oliver fired five shots from his department-issued assault rifle into a car carrying Edwards and four companions in April, 2017, the newspaper reports.
Oliver, 38, could be paroled after seven-and-a-half years, his lawyers told the Associated Press after the sentencing, but, they added, they had concerns he might not live that long in prison.
Charmaine Edwards, Jordan’s stepmother, said the jury showed Oliver too much compassion. “He can actually see life again after 15 years and that’s not enough because Jordan can’t see life again,” she said, according to the Dallas Morning News.
Still, "although we wanted more years, this is a start for us,” she said.
Mothers Against Police Brutality, a Texas group, also said in a statement that Oliver’s sentence was too lenient, and ”not at all commensurate with his crime.”
But one of Oliver’s lawyers, Miles Brissette, said Oliver’s conviction and sentence sent the wrong message to law enforcement officers across the country, according to KERA News, a National Public Radio station in Dallas.
“It sends a chilling message to some as to how an officer’s going to react in a similar situation,” Brissette said. “Are they going to go to work one day and be facing a murder charge the next for making a decision that was a split second? That’s what was at issue here.”
Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson disputed this notion in the prosecution’s closing argument she personally delivered in the sentencing phase of Oliver’s trial.
Johnson told the jury that her office’s prosecution of Oliver had nothing to do with the vast majority of police officers, who are trusted by the public “to protect us, to keep us safe.”
Oliver, she said, wasn’t a police officer, he was a “killer in a blue.”
“When we call nine-eleven, 9-1-1, the dispatcher, never in a million years would we ever think that what’s gonna be sent out there, is a killer in blue, to kill our child.”
The jury also heard from Oliver’s family, including his mother and his wife. Both said he was a good man, who helped provide for them. They said Oliver deserved mercy, in particular, so he could take care of his 3-year-old son, who has autism.
"He needs his father's love. He needs his father's income. He needs his father's guidance," Oliver’s mother, Linda, said, according to the Dallas Morning News. "He's a daddy's boy."
She added that she personally knew how hard it will be for Oliver’s wife, Ingrid, to raise their child alone, and in so doing revealed a previously unknown, and tragic, detail from Oliver’s early life.
"My son was raised with a father in prison," Linda Oliver said. "I know how hard it is to be a single mother."
The jury deliberated late into the evening before delivering their sentence.
Afterwards Johnson, the Dallas County District Attorney, told reporters "We are very satisfied with the guilty verdict. We believe that this is historic."
The last time a Dallas police officer was convicted of murder was after Darrell L. Cain thought he could get a 12-year-old boy to confess to a crime he thought the boy committed by playing Russian roulette with him in the backseat of his patrol car in July 1973, as previously reported by Oxygen.com.
Cain was sentenced to five years in prison, but only served two-and-a-half.
Nationally, fewer than 90 officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter for allegedly unjustified shootings since 2005, according to the Associated Press. Less than half plead guilty, usually to a lesser charge, or were convicted.
Rarer still is a murder charge, which, besides Oliver, has happened only five times in the last 13 years in cases involving non-federal law enforcement officers — and four of those convictions were overturned, the Associated Press reports, citing Bowling Green University criminologist Phil Stinson.
Oliver’s lawyers said they would appeal.
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