On a cool, cloudy evening last spring, Sheila Foster enjoyed her first night of good sleep in almost three years. Earlier that day, a jury had convicted Daniel Perry of murdering Sheila’s son, Garrett Foster, during a Black Lives Matter rally in Austin. Perry, a white U.S. Army sergeant who was driving for Uber, ran a red light one night in July 2020 and drove his vehicle into a crowd of protesters. Foster, a white 28-year-old Air Force veteran, had been carrying an AK-47, which is legal in Texas, and approached Perry’s car. Perry opened fire with his .357 Magnum revolver, shooting five times. 

Witnesses at Perry’s trial testified that Foster did not raise his weapon. That accorded with Perry’s initial answers to law enforcement when he was first questioned after the shooting and told the police, “I believe he was going to aim at me. I didn’t want to give him a chance to aim at me.” After Perry was convicted, unsealed court records revealed that, in text messages to a friend, he had fantasized about shooting protesters. He had also posted musings on social media in which he described himself as a “racist” and characterized BLM protesters as “monkeys.”

The verdict marked the end of an agonizing journey for Sheila to find some measure of closure following her son’s death. After sleeping in on April 8, the morning after the verdict, she awoke in her Dallas-area home, where she lives alone, and thanked God for justice finally being served. But a text message from a friend shattered her short-lived peace. Governor Greg Abbott had just tweeted, “I am working as swiftly as Texas law allows regarding the pardon of Sgt. Perry.” Recalling that moment, Sheila told Texas Monthly recently, “I felt like somebody punched me so hard in the stomach. All of a sudden, I was buckled over. I was nauseated, feeling like I’m going to throw up.” 

The governor cannot grant clemency without a recommendation from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, whose seven board members were all appointed by him. The board has not yet made a decision on Perry’s case. Still, Sheila, who says she is a lifelong straight-ticket Republican voter, criticizes the governor’s hasty attempt to pardon Perry as a blatant attempt to score political points at the expense of her family’s grief, and of justice. During his nearly nine years as governor, Abbott has seldom granted clemency, approving only 2 of 26 recommended pardons in 2022, for example. 

Kristen Chavez, a program supervisor in the clemency department, said the board has received Abbott’s petition but would not offer a timeline on when it would make its decision, citing its confidentiality policy. When pressed on whether the pardon request was under review, Chavez said, “That’s not the case.” She then added clarification. “Let me be careful with my words. . . . We currently have it, but we can’t disclose any information regarding it.”  

Abbott’s request for a pardon thrust the national spotlight back on Foster’s family. News of Garrett’s death first made headlines in 2020 as protests over the murder of George Floyd erupted across the country. Some viewed Garrett as a heroic social justice advocate standing up against racial discrimination experienced by Black Americans, while others supported Perry on the theory—rejected by the jury in his trial—that he was defending himself under Texas’s “stand your ground” law. As the incident became enmeshed in the culture wars, misinformation about what happened quickly spread. 

Sheila watched in horror as supporters of Perry incorrectly claimed Garrett was a rioter, a terrorist, and a member of an organized antifa group. “This has not been a normal grieving process,” Sheila said. “Most people that lose a child don’t have half the world demonizing that child.” 

As the case unfolded in the court of public opinion, Sheila began receiving hate mail in her private social media inbox. One Facebook message read, “f— your dead ass son you old bitch he got smoked by a war hero,” accompanied by an uncensored image of a man lying face down in a pool of his blood with a bullet wound through his head. “This is what your son would’ve looked like,” the message concluded. 

A year and a half after the shooting, Sheila attended a small house party where a man told her that Garrett was at fault for his death. The encounter sent her spiraling. “I stayed in bed the next day completely wrecked because that was the first time anybody had ever said anything to my face,” she recalled. A week later, the anguish became too much to bear. Sheila, who struggled with alcoholism, drank a bottle of sparkling wine and swallowed a bottle of Xanax, an antianxiety medication. Later that night, her daughter, Anna Mayo, stopped by the house to drop off groceries and discovered her incoherent mother. Mayo called paramedics, who rushed Sheila to the hospital. She was intubated, had her stomach pumped, and spent the night in the intensive care unit. When she was released, she says, she quit drinking alcohol and has remained sober since. 

Since the murder of her son, Sheila has been suffering from depression, anxiety, and short-term memory loss. She quit her job as a contract administrator for a window-covering manufacturer because of the stress she experienced during and after Perry’s trial. 

The wait for resolution in the case has been excruciating for Sheila, who likely won’t find the closure she seeks anytime soon. Clint Broden, one of Perry’s attorneys, says he has filed a notice of appeal of his client’s conviction and is waiting on the trial record to be completed before he determines the basis on which he would bring such a challenge. Perry’s parents believe that Texas district court judge Cliff Brown, who presided over the trial, and Travis County district attorney José Garza, who brought the charges, colluded to keep Daniel Perry from getting a fair trial. The Perrys claim that Garza failed to disclose exculpatory evidence to the grand jury that indicted their son. They also complain that Brown didn’t admit evidence that they believe would have swayed the jury’s opinion, such as posts from Garrett’s social media accounts that Daniel’s dad, Scott, says advocated for burning down police stations. “I think that [Brown] and Garza got together [to] say, ‘How can we keep our buddies happy?’ ” Scott told me. “Let’s stick it to a white boy who’s Republican. He’s in the military. He’s everything we hate.”

The Perrys say they have pulled around $500,000 from their retirement savings to pay for their son’s legal defense. They also have received death threats, and an officer from their local police department confirmed that policemen kept watch on their house for a couple days before the verdict.

Daniel Perry’s mom, Rachel, is currently taking medication for depression and quit her job as a nurse because she’s unable to focus at work. “Sometimes I can’t sleep at night. It’s like a living hell,” Rachel said. While in prison, his parents said, Daniel threatened to commit suicide and spent a couple of weeks under observation in the medical unit. “To this day . . . [he] doesn’t understand why he’s in prison,” Scott said.

While many on the right express similar confusion, others see Abbott’s quest to pardon Perry as politically motivated. Chris Harris, policy director for the Austin Justice Coalition, a grassroots organization focused on issues of racial and economic justice, said Abbott’s promise came so quickly after the verdict that the governor—who began his public career as a judge—would not have had time to adequately review the evidence from the case. “It reflects a political culture in our state that I find not only disappointing but also scary,” Harris said. “There are people that want to enact political violence against their perceived opponents, and there’s leadership in our state that are willing to look the other way while they do it or help them escape accountability when they do it.” (Abbott did not respond to multiple requests for an interview with Texas Monthly.)

Since Abbott tweeted his promise to pardon Perry, Sheila says she has not been able to properly grieve. Nothing seems to quell the bursts of sadness that can arise from the most random of triggers. After Garrett’s death, Sheila got an emotional support bird, a sun conure she named Frodo, after the Tolkien character, because of his “ugly feet.” Recently, Sheila rewatched a TikTok she posted of Frodo pecking his beak along to a drum solo performed by Rush drummer Neil Peart. The clanging of his beak on the metal motor of a ceiling fan reminded her of a cowbell, which unexpectedly made her recall one of Garrett’s favorite videos, the famous Saturday Night Live cowbell sketch, featuring actor Christopher Walken. “I really started missing my son again, and I’m just sitting on the bed bawling,” Sheila said. “I could almost feel him in the room with me.” 

Mayo says that if Perry is pardoned, her family will leave Texas over fears she or her children might run into her brother’s killer in public. In the meantime, Sheila plans to plant a willow tree by a pond on her father’s property in memory of her son. 

She hopes Abbott reverses course. She says, “I wish the governor would be man enough to say, ‘You know what? This family has already been through enough. I prematurely tweeted this and caused them even more pain, and I’m sorry. I did the wrong thing. That guy belongs in jail. We have all the facts. The jury was right.’ ”