Former Texas Police Officer Found Guilty Of Murder In Shooting Of Unarmed Teen | KERA News

Former Texas Police Officer Found Guilty Of Murder In Shooting Of Unarmed Teen

Aug 28, 2018

Updated, 8:22 p.m. CT

Roy Oliver, a former police officer in Balch Springs, Texas, was found guilty of murder Tuesday in the fatal shooting of unarmed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards after police broke up a house party last year.

Sentencing is underway; the hearing will continue Wednesday.

In April 2017, Oliver, who is white, fired his gun five times into a moving car carrying five black teenagers while responding to a report of underage drinking at the party in Balch Springs, a Dallas suburb. Jordan, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, was fatally shot in the head. He was fired from the department shortly after the incident.

'It's not just about Jordan'

When the guilty verdict was read, family members of Jordan Edwards hugged and shook hands.

Outside the courtroom, Jordan's father, Odell Edwards, said he wanted to jump up and down. When asked what he wanted to tell his other sons, Edwards replied, “We did it.” 

“I just want to say I’m happy, very happy. It’s been a long time, a hard year,” Edwards said. 

Family attorney Daryl Washington said he and Edwards were talking Monday night and Edwards said he never wanted another family or father to go through what they’ve gone through.

“This case, it’s not just about Jordan,” Washington said, listing off names, including Tamir Rice and Alton Sterling. “It’s about every unarmed African-American who has been killed and who has not gotten justice. And we’re just happy here in Dallas, Texas, that Roy Oliver is going to have to do his time for taking Jordan’s life. ”

Edwards said his son, a freshman at Mesquite High School, wanted to go to school in Alabama for football. 

"I believe he would have been a star, a real big star," Edwards said. 

"This case, it's not just about Jordan...It's about every unarmed African-American who has been killed and who has not gotten justice."

The Balch Springs shooting is one of several controversial police shootings of black men, teenagers and boys that have grabbed national headlines in the last several years. It’s rare that a case like this makes it to court.

Henry Brown, president of a local NAACP chapter, which includes Balch Springs, reflected the skepticism of many that Oliver would be convicted.

"You have to look at it historically," Brown said. "You really haven’t had nothing like this to happen in the state of Texas in a long time. And these kinds of cases are very seldom won around the nation. And today Texas got it right."

The last time a Texas police officer was convicted of murder for killing in the line of duty was 1973. That’s when 12-year-old Santos Rodriguez was shot in the head while handcuffed in the back of a squad car. The Dallas officer who shot him was sentenced to five years in prison, and served half of the sentence.

Indictments of police officers in Dallas County have become more common in recent years, but not convictions. Body camera footage may have made the difference in this case.

Mixed reaction from Balch Springs

Jury deliberations began just before noon Monday after closing arguments. Dallas County jurors deliberated for over eight hours, reconvened around 8:20 a.m. Tuesday and reached a verdict just before 2 in the afternoon. Ten women — five white, two black and three Hispanic — and two white men made up the jury.

Oliver, 38, was found not guilty on the two counts of aggravated assault tied to the incident. 

In the community of Balch Springs, east of Dallas, reaction to the guilty verdict was mixed. Many in Balch Springs interviewed on Tuesday said they hadn't been following the trial. But those who have followed it have strong opinions about the murder conviction.

Tammy Smoot thinks the jurors got it right.

“That man's never going to see his family again just like that baby's not ever going to get to see his," she said.

Billie Scherzer, on the other hand, thinks Oliver should have been acquitted.

"That man shouldn't have been convicted of murder," she said. "I mean, what about the 15-year-old kid at the party at 11 o'clock at night? To me when they're out like that they're up to no good."

"I just can't really say if it will change anything...I hope it will."

Youlanda Jackson, a Balch Springs mother of three, says what happened to Jordan Edwards cast a cloud over the community. It made her hyper-vigilant and led to tough conversations with her boys.

"Me being a black woman and raising three black boys, we have to raise them different," she said. "And it's kind of hard to tell them you can't do this because of your skin tone. You might get killed going outside checking the mailbox."

Clifford Sneed says the story of the white police officer shooting an unarmed black man has been told so many times, he's not sure if this guilty verdict will have enough power to make a difference.

"I just can't really say if it will change anything," Sneed said. "It's possible, you know, it is possible that it can change. I hope it will."

Earlier in the trial 

Oliver took the stand Thursday, saying he shot into the car because he thought his police partner’s life was in danger. But, his police partner, Tyler Gross, previously testified that he didn’t fear for his life and never felt the need to shoot. 

Oliver testified that while he was in the house, he heard gunshots outside, leading him to believe there was an active shooter. It was later determined that the shots were fired near a nursing home in the area. And it was later reported that no teenagers were drinking or using drugs at the party. Investigators also said no guns were found in the teens' vehicle.

Witnesses said they saw no justification for Oliver to open fire. And prosecutors during the trial argued the former officer had a history of being angry, out of control and "trigger happy.”

Oliver testified it was "very sickening" when he learned he had killed Jordan. "I was in shock for days," he said.

Following the shooting, Balch Springs police first said the vehicle carrying the teenagers backed up toward officers "in an aggressive manner." But police later reported that video showed the car was moving forward as officers approached.

In June 2017, Oliver was indicted on two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon by a public servant in an unrelated incident that happened two weeks before Jordan's death. Jurors on Friday heard testimony from the woman involved in the earlier incident. She testified Oliver pointed a gun at her after she rear ended his car. The woman’s sister also testified that Oliver pointed the gun and described him as raging.

Oliver, who said he was driving with his wife and young son at the time, testified he held his firearm up against his chest during the encounter.

The trial began Aug. 16. Testimony concluded Friday. Judge Brandon Birmingham oversaw the trial, held in the Frank Crowley Courts Building in Dallas.

The Associated Press and KERA's Courtney Collins, Christopher Connelly and Bill Zeeble contributed to this report.