A Dallas County jury has found ex-Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver guilty of murder in the death of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, an African-American youth who was unarmed when Oliver shot him in April 2017.
The jury deliberated for about 12 hours over a period of two days before reaching its verdict. The courtroom erupted in cries and cheers from Edwards’ family afterward as they clapped and hugged each other.
Odell Edwards, Jordan Edwards’ father, said his family is relieved and happy. “It’s been a long time, hard year and we’re just really happy,” he said, holding back tears. “We did it.”
“God is good, God is good,” one woman said in the hallway outside the courtroom, as she hugged others.
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Gov. Greg Abbott also reacted to the verdict, saying in a tweet, “This life should never have been taken.”
A photo of Edwards rested underneath Judge Brandon Birmingham’s bench for most of the weeklong trial.
The trial immediately moved into the punishment phase. The jury will hear testimony from friends, family and teachers of Jordan as well as supporters of Oliver.
Oliver shot into the back of a 2004 black Impala where Edwards was a passenger on April 29 last year. The then-officer claimed the car was about to run over his partner, Officer Tyler Gross, but several witnesses and video taken from the officer’s body camera show the car was moving away from Gross.
Gross himself testified on the first day of the trial against Oliver. He said he never feared for his life. An expert in the use of force also testified that Oliver was not justified in shooting Edwards.
Last year, thousands of Facebook and Twitter users posted about it in the days immediately after the shooting, using the hashtag “#jordanedwards.” His death was compared to other police shootings of young blacks, such as 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland. Rice, holding a pellet gun, was fatally shot in November 2014.
Daryl Washington, attorney for the Edwards family, said body cameras were extremely important in the case.
“When this story first came out, the narrative was very different,” he said. “The police chief took the word of what the officer said.”
Attorney Jasmine Crockett said there were handfuls of courageous people who helped prosecutors get a guilty verdict — among them the teenage witnesses who testified against a police officer, the district attorney who brought the charges and the jurors who convicted Oliver of murder.
“That is the second-highest level of homicide we have in the state of Texas and that’s huge,” she said.
Sharon Watkins Jones of the ACLU of Texas said the community relies on police officers to keep its citizens safe and “to use their powers judiciously and fairly.”
“There is a long history in this country of failing to hold law enforcement responsible for even the gravest abuses of power,” she said. “The prosecution of Roy Oliver and today’s guilty verdict send a powerful message: Roy Oliver’s actions were murder, and he will be held accountable.”
Officers aren’t usually charged or convicted of shooting civilians — even when they’re unarmed.
Asked how they feel in the sentencing phase, Crockett said she doesn’t expect a sentence on the “high end.” Oliver faces up to life in prison.
Washington said he wants to take things day-by-day.
“I want to celebrate the verdict,” he said. “It’s my hope and belief that the jury will make the right decision.”
In Texas, of the 880 officers involved in shootings between 2010 and 2015, an investigation by The Texas Tribune showed that only 25 were disciplined by their departments. Ten were fired for their actions and 14 were suspended. One was given a written reprimand.
In 2016, a former Farmers Branch police officer involved in a deadly shooting was convicted of killing Jose Cruz and seriously injuring Edgar Rodriguez, both 16 at the time. Ken Johnson was off-duty when he fired at the teenagers 16 times.
Until Oliver’s conviction, it had been more than 40 years since an on-duty officer had been convicted of killing someone in a shooting in Texas.
Darrell Cain was convicted of murder in 1973 for killing Santos Rodriguez, 12. Cain, an officer in Dallas, held a gun to the boy’s head and on the second pull of the trigger, killed him. Rodriguez was handcuffed in a squad car.
When Oliver was indicted on murder charges last year, Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson said the indictment was hopefully a message to bad police officers that “if you do wrong, we will prosecute you.”