NPR for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Former Texas Police Officer Sentenced To 15 Years For Murder Of Unarmed Teen

Late Wednesday night, a Dallas County jury sentenced former Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver to 15 years in prison and ordered him to pay a $10,000 fine.

That comes after the jury found him guilty of murder for the fatal shooting of Jordan Edwards, an unarmed black teenager who had been leaving a house party in April 2017. 

Charmaine Edwards said she connected two details as soon as she heard the sentence: 15 years in prison for the murder of her 15-year-old stepson. She was hoping Oliver would serve a longer prison term.

“Twenty-five to 30, or more," she said. “He actually can see life again after 15 years. And that’s not enough because Jordan can’t see life again.”

Prosecutors asked for at least a 60-year sentence. Oliver, 38, faced up to life in prison. 

Still, Daryl Washington, the family’s lawyer, said even if they’d have preferred a longer sentence, they respect the jury’s decision. He said they know many families never see their child’s killer brought to justice. Washington said he hopes this case marks a change.

Credit Rose Baca / The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool
The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool
Lead prosecutor Michael Snipes, second from left, and Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson, left, talk to Odell and Charmaine Edwards after former Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver was sentenced to 15 years for the murder of their son.

“Little kids ... adults, should be able to look at police officers as individuals who have taken the oath to protect and serve," Washington said. "We should not have to have conversations with our kids on how to behave or how to deal with police officers. Hopefully ... Dallas is going to be an example for the rest of the country.”

The idea that this case sets an example was also raised by Roy Oliver’s defense team. Miles Brissette said police heard it loud and clear.

“It sends a chilling message to some as to how an officer’s going to react in a similar situation,” he 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 rejected the idea that this prosecution was anti-police.

“We love them,” she said. “We support the police. However, we do not support the bad apples. And we want to say to bad apples like Roy Oliver, 'If you go out and you murder anybody, we’re committed to making certain that we prosecute people like that.'”

The trial is over, but the legal fights continue. Edwards’ family has filed a civil lawsuit against the city of Balch Springs. And Oliver’s defense team has already started the appeals process.

Before the sentence

The jury deliberated Roy Oliver's fate for five-and-a-half hours Wednesday following two days of testimony. 

During the sentencing phase, jurors heard from several people close to Jordan. His father, Odell Edwards, testified Tuesday that his son always had a smile on his face and dreamed of playing football at Alabama.

Charmaine Edwards, testified that Jordan's death left a void in the family. She said nothing will make her family whole again.

His teachers described the Mesquite High School freshman as a great student, who was respectful, helpful and confident. His teacher Anna Lee Polk said she would “love to have a classroom of Jordans.”

Oliver’s attorneys called several people to testify on Wednesday. Linda Oliver asked jurors for leniency for her son and for the sake of her 3-year-old grandson, who's autistic. Oliver’s mother asked jurors to give him a minimum five-year sentence and said her grandson needs his father's income and support. 

Oliver’s wife, Ingrid Llerena, testified in Spanish with the help of a translator that he was a good man and devoted father. His half-sister, Wendi Oliver, however, testified against him, saying she hopes “he gets what he deserves.”

Before jurors deliberated, Dallas County district attorney Faith Johnson said Oliver was a "killer in blue" and told jurors they could send a message that bad officers will not be tolerated.

Earlier in the trial

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

During the trial last week, Oliver testified that he was protecting his police partner’s life when he fired into the vehicle. But his partner previously told jurors that he didn’t fear for his life and saw no reason to shoot.

On Tuesday, gasps echoed around the courtroom as the guilty verdict was read. The family of Jordan Edwards hugged and shook hands. His father said he wanted to jump up and down.

Meanwhile, in Balch Springs, reaction was mixed. Many residents interviewed said they hadn't been following the trial. But those who have followed it have strong opinions about the murder conviction.

The last time a Texas police officer was convicted of murder for killing in the line of duty was 1973. 

Oliver was found not guilty on two lesser charges of aggravated assault related to the shooting.

Ten women — five white, two black and three Hispanic — and two white men made up the jury. 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 contributed to this report.

Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.