DALLAS (AP) — More testimony is expected Wednesday during the sentencing of a former police officer who was convicted of murder for shooting into a car filled with black teenagers in suburban Dallas, killing one of them.
In a rare guilty verdict in a police shooting case, the Dallas County jurors were not swayed by former Balch Springs officer Roy Oliver’s claim that he was protecting his partner when he fired into the vehicle. His partner told jurors he didn’t fear for his life.
Gasps echoed around the courtroom Tuesday as the verdict was read. Relatives of the boy killed, 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, sobbed and hugged prosecutors, waved their hands in the air and proclaimed “Thank you, Jesus!”
Edwards father said he was thankful and that he felt like jumping for joy.
“I just want to say I’m happy, very happy,” Odell Edwards said outside the courtroom. He said it’s “been a long time” since he felt that way.
The jury, which featured two black members out of 12 jurors and two alternates, later heard Odell Edwards testify that his son always had a smile on his face and dreamed of playing football at Alabama.
Oliver was found not guilty on two lesser charges of aggravated assault stemming from the shooting.
He faces between five and 99 years in prison, according to an Edwards family attorney.
Oliver and his partner were responding to a report of underage drinking at a house party in Balch Springs in April 2017 when the shooting occurred. Police initially said the vehicle carrying Edwards and his friends backed up toward officers “in an aggressive manner,” but later admitted that bodycam video showed the vehicle was moving forward as officers approached.
Investigators said no guns were found in the vehicle. Oliver was fired just days after the shooting.
It’s extremely rare for police officers to be tried and convicted of murder for shootings that occurred while they are on duty. Only six non-federal police officers have been convicted of murder in such cases — and four of those convictions were overturned — since 2005, according to data compiled by criminologist and Bowling Green State University professor Phil Stinson.
Stinson, who tracks such cases nationwide, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that to secure a murder conviction, the facts of a case have to be “so over the top and bizarre” that the officer’s actions can’t be rationally explained.
Experts also say that securing a conviction against an officer is often a challenge because jurors are inclined to believe police testimony and criminal culpability in such cases is subjective.
Daryl Washington, an attorney representing Odell Edwards in a civil lawsuit filed in the death, said they are “happy … that Roy Oliver is gonna have to do his time for taking Jordan’s life. What he did on that night should have never happened.”
Washington said black American youths should feel a little safer because officers know they will be held accountable.