DALLAS - Jurors found a former Balch Springs police officer guilty of murder on Tuesday after two days of deliberations.
Roy Oliver shot unarmed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards to death outside a party in April 2017 after responding to reports of underage drinking. The jury reached its verdict after about 12-13 hours of deliberation.
It was a day of high drama and intense emotion. It ended with Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson and prosecutors praying with Jordan Edwards’ family, giving thanks for the verdict.
Edwards’ family was emotional after the guilty verdict was announced. They cried, hugged and quietly cheered. One person could be heard exclaiming, "Thank you, Jesus!"
“I just want to say I’m happy. Very happy,” said Odell Edwards, Jordan's father. It's been a long time. It’s been a hard year. I’m just really happy.”
The family’s civil attorney, Daryl K. Washington, said the case was about more than Jordan Edwards.
“It’s about every African American, unarmed African American, who has been killed and who has not gotten justice,” Washington said.
“This is a great day for the Edwards family,” said Henry Brown with the Mesquite NAACP. “We wanted this for the Edwards family. We wanted this for our community.”
Oliver was found not guilty of aggravated assault by a public servant for the other passengers in the car in which Edwards was in. The jury was allowed to consider a lesser charge of manslaughter if members could not agree on murder.
Oliver claimed he feared for his partner's life when he fired into the vehicle Edwards and others were in as it drove away from a large house party. Oliver testified he opened fire after seeing the car move toward his partner, but his partner told jurors he didn't fear for his life.
Oliver’s wife left the courtroom in tears after the verdict was read.
About 15 minutes after the verdict came down, the trial quickly moved to the punishment phase. The Dallas County jury heard testimony late Tuesday afternoon from those who had close contact with Edwards. Prosecutors called character witnesses and family.
“Now is the time that you are going to get to see the man Roy Oliver is. The evil that is in Roy Oliver,” said Prosecutor Shawn Keedra Martin. “You don’t know the half of it.”
Judge Douglas Skemp testified about Oliver cursing from the witness stand during a trial in his courtroom.
“Mr. Oliver just did really not want to be there,” Skemp said. “He wouldn’t cooperate with the district attorney.”
The judge said it was behavior from a police officer that he’s never seen before or since.
“But I remember him saying, ‘I don’t understand the f***ing question,’” Skemp said.
Greg Petty supervised Oliver at the Dalworthington Gardens Police Department before Oliver joined the Balch Springs Department. He told the jury about troubling changes he’d seen after Oliver returned from a second deployment with the Army to Iraq and about a Facebook post Oliver re-posted in 2013 that said “I will never in my life be as good at anything in life as I am at killing people.”
Jordan’s father recounted saying goodbye the night his sons left for a party and about the heartbreak his death continues to cause for the family he left behind.
“I told him I loved him. And that’s the last thing I told him,” Odell said. “It’s just not the same without Jordan around.”
Jordan’s stepmother, Charmaine Edwards, addressed the jury directly.
“I’m forever grateful that you all saw in your hearts to see that it was wrong, and I thank you,” she said. “Because it doesn’t bring Jordan back, but we have some kind of closure.”
Edwards was a freshman at Mesquite High School and a stream of teachers and coaches described his ambition and positive demeanor. All told the jury how Edwards made an impression on them immediately and how much he meant to everyone.
The district released a statement saying: "Mesquite ISD is focused on meeting the emotional needs of our students and staff members as they cope with the many feelings stirred by the case surrounding Jordan Edwards’ death. Our unwavering support and compassion extends to Jordan’s family during this difficult time, and Jordan’s memory will continue to hold special meaning for Mesquite High School and our entire community."
It’s incredibly rare for a police officer to be convicted of murder in Texas. Most officers aren’t even charged in the shooting deaths of civilians.
The last officer to be convicted of an on-duty shooting death in Texas was Dallas police officer Darrell Cain for the 1973 murder of 12-year-old Santos Rodriguez. Cain held a gun to the young boy’s head and played Russian roulette. The first pull of the trigger was nothing, but the second instantly killed the handcuffed boy.
The state has rested its case in the sentencing phase. The defense will begin Wednesday morning at 9 a.m.
Oliver is now facing five to 99 years in prison.