DALLAS (CN) — A Dallas County jury sentenced former policeman Roy Oliver to 15 years in Texas state prison late Wednesday for firing five shots into a car and murdering 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, a sentence that fell far short of the 60 years prosecutors sought.
Oliver, 38, of Combine, stood silently with his attorneys and nodded at the jury box as the sentence was read by state District Judge Brandon Birmingham. The 12-member jury deliberated for more than six hours after two days of testimony in the punishment phase of Oliver’s trial. Oliver faced up to life in state prison. He also was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine.
The jury on Tuesday convicted Oliver, a former Balch Springs police officer, of murder for firing his rifle into a car full of teenage boys, killing Edwards, of Mesquite. Police were responding to reports of gunfire near a house party on April 29, 2017. Oliver testified that the teens’ car had come to a stop, then accelerated at his partner, so he fired. Edwards was struck in the head and killed instantly.
Oliver was fired and Edwards’ father sued him in federal court within days of the shooting. He testified that he was “heartbroken” by Edwards’ death but that he believes he responded appropriately to the perceived threat of his partner being run over.
The case has been closely followed nationally as the country continues to grapple with the issue of excessive police force against unarmed black men. The Department of Justice launched an investigation of the shooting in May 2017.
Prosecutors portrayed Oliver as a “walking, out-of-control time bomb” who was “trigger-happy” and “looking for a reason to kill” in spite of being in no danger at any time.
The sentence came quickly after jurors sent out two notes to Judge Birmingham. The first note asked what would happen if they could not unanimously agree on a sentence. The second asked if Oliver’s family or the state would be responsible for paying any fine the jury assessed. Both times, the judge told the jury they had all the information they needed and to keep trying to reach consensus.
The jury declined to find that Oliver committed a murder of sudden passion, a designation that would have reduced the minimum and maximum sentence.
Jurors listened to competing pleas for justice and mercy by family and friends of both Edwards and Oliver. Prosecutors asked for at least 60 years while the defense asked for the minimum of five years.
During closing arguments, Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson repeated teachers’ testimony Wednesday that Edwards “was one of those kids you knew would do great, amazing things.”
She told reporters after sentencing that she respects the jury’s decision.
“We would have loved to have more time, but we did not get that,” she said.
She added that since the sentence is over 10 years, Oliver is not eligible for an appeal.
Oliver’s wife, Ingrid Llerena, tearfully testified through a Spanish interpreter that her husband is a “very good man” who has an autistic 3-year-old son, Tab, who needs his father.
“He is a very good husband,” she said. “The best father my son could ever have.”
Oliver’s mother, Linda, pleaded with jurors for leniency, citing his son’s need for his father’s guidance and income.
“My son was raised with a father in prison and deservedly so — that man deserved to be in prison,” she said. “I know how hard it is to be a single mother.”
When prosecutors told her that she would be able to see her son in prison while the Edwards would never get to see their son again, Linda Oliver accepted that and said, “We are both living our own versions of hell.”
Oliver’s half-sister, Wendi, did not ask for leniency when called by prosecutors as a rebuttal witness. A supporter of the Edwards’ family, she told jurors she hopes “he gets what he deserves” and that she feels “sorry for what he has done” to Edwards.
As the jury began deliberating, Edwards’ family and supporters formed a prayer circle outside the courtroom and asked for “no less than 60 years.”
Edwards’ mother, Shaunkeyia Stephens, told reporters before the sentence was handed down that she prays for a life sentence because “it is only fair, it makes it sort of right.” She said Oliver failed to stop and think, that the partner he was allegedly protecting when he fired stopped and thought and did not fire on the car.
“This tragedy has torn me apart,” a visibly emotional Stephens said. “My soul has been vexed with tremendous, tremendous pain. I miss my baby so, so much.”
After sentencing, she said she “obviously wanted” a longer sentence.
“But this is a start for us and we can get some kind of closure,” she said.
Her attorney, Andrew Dunlap, told reporters that “we are obviously disappointed” with the sentence.
“I think that they did not value Jordan’s life. This was about Jordan,” he said. “This was not about this police officer. … The jury is giving Mr. Oliver a chance to redeem his life for what he did. Yet my client has no son … who was nothing but an all-American kid. [She gets] nothing from this.”
Oliver’s attorney, Bob Gill, said after sentencing that this is a tragedy for both the Oliver and Edwards families.
“We have two families who have been deeply affected by this tragedy; we heard from both of them in the courtroom today,” he said.