Texas Officer Guilty in Killing of Unarmed Black Teen

Fired Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver, who was charged with the murder of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, is cross-examined by lead prosecutor Michael Snipes, foreground, during the sixth day of his trial at the Frank Crowley Courts Building in Dallas on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018. (Rose Baca/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool)

DALLAS (CN) – A Dallas County jury convicted a fired white police officer of murder Tuesday for firing his rifle five times into a car and killing unarmed, black 15-year-old Jordan Edwards.

A 12-member jury had the option of convicting Roy Oliver, 38, of Combine, of either murder or manslaughter in the April 29, 2017, shooting in Balch Springs. He was responding to reports of gunfire as Edwards and several other boys were leaving a house party.

Oliver testified that the car they were in came to a stop, then accelerated at his partner, so he fired five shots from his rifle, killing Edwards.

He said he was “heartbroken” by Edwards’ death, but that he believes he acted appropriately.

As the verdict was read, Oliver stood silently with his attorneys while audible gasps were heard in the gallery. Members of Edwards’ family and their supporters immediately embraced and wept as Oliver was taken into custody.

Edwards’ father, Odell, was emotional when he told reporters outside of the courtroom that he is “very, very happy” with the verdict.

“It has been a long time,” he said. “It has been a hard year. I’m just really happy … we did it!”

Daryl Washington, the family’s attorney, said the case was not just about Edwards.

“This is about Tamir Rice, it is about Walter Scott, it is about Alton Sterling, it is about every African-American who has been killed and who has not gotten justice,” he said. “We are just happy that here in Dallas, Texas, Roy Oliver is going to have to do his time for taking Jordan’s life. What he did that night should never have happened. We are happy to have gotten justice today.”

Jurors also found Oliver not guilty on two counts of aggravated assault. They deliberated for over 12 hours over two days.

The verdict came after the jury sent two notes to the judge on Tuesday. The first asked for a transcript of Oliver’s testimony regarding whether the sound of car glass breaking played into his decision to shoot. The other note asked for the written statement Oliver gave after Edwards’ death, but that request was rejected by state District Judge Brandon Birmingham due to the statement being inadmissible.

Within days of the shooting, Oliver was fired and sued in federal court by Edwards’ father. The lawsuit painted Oliver as a hothead with anger issues, citing past complaints by prosecutors that Oliver would allegedly become aggressive and use vulgar language while testifying in other cases.

Prosecutors attacked Oliver as “a walking, out-of-control time bomb,” saying during closing arguments that the teenagers posed no danger to him and that he “was looking for a reason to kill.”

Charmaine Edwards, mother of Jordan Edwards, listens to testimony from fired Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver, who was charged with the murder of her 15-year-old son Jordan Edwards, during the sixth day of his trial at the Frank Crowley Courts Building in Dallas on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018. (Rose Baca/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool)

They also called rebuttal witnesses who were in a car that rear-ended Oliver’s personal truck two weeks before the shooting. They testified that he was “raging” as he got out of his vehicle, failed to identify himself as a cop and pointed a gun at one of the passengers.

Defense attorneys disagreed, insisting Oliver only had a “split second” to make his decision to pull the trigger and blamed the driver, Edwards’ brother, for not following police commands to stop the car.

“They protect their buddy, they protect their partner and that’s what Roy Oliver did that night,” attorney Bob Gill said Monday. “That car was pointed at [Balch Springs police officer] Tyler Gross and it was a threat to him. That’s why Roy Oliver reasonably made the decision that he made. He was put in that position not by his own actions, but by a combination of events that night. We cannot look at anything in a vacuum or by itself, everything has to be looked at together.”

The sentencing phase of the trial began immediately after the verdict, with prosecutors calling several of Edwards’ teachers and coaches to testify about the impact of his loss. Oliver faces up to life in state prison.

The case has been closely followed nationally as the country continues to grapple with the issue of police using excessive force against young black males. The Department of Justice announced an investigation into the shooting in May 2017.

Balch Springs, population 24,000, is a suburb to the southeast of Dallas.

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