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Former police officer convicted of murder for shooting unarmed black teen

August 28, 2018 05:11 pm Updated: August 28, 2018 05:14 pm

DALLAS - A former police officer was convicted Tuesday of murder for the April 2017 shooting death of an African-American teenager and could face up to life in prison.

Roy Oliver, who is white, had testified he was defending his partner when he shot into a car of youth leaving a house party in the Dallas suburb of Balch Springs. Fifteen-year-old Jordan Edwards, a freshman honor roll student who was sitting in the front passenger seat, was killed instantly.

The incident became a flash point in north Texas and even nationally, reigniting concerns of racism and police brutality. Oliver is the second ex-officer in Dallas County to be found guilty this year of a civilian's death.

More than a dozen uniformed police officers lined the walls of the packed courtroom as the verdict was read. The jury, which deliberated for 13 hours, found Oliver not guilty of two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon by a public servant.

Oliver's wife sobbed in a front row while embracing his mother. On the other side of the courtroom, friends and family of Jordan Edwards hugged each other as they also cried. Several women quietly said, "God is good."

The attorney handling a federal civil lawsuit against Oliver, which had been on hold while the criminal case was litigated, has said the Edwards family wants him "to be severely punished."

Oliver and his partner Tyler Gross had been dispatched in response to neighbors' complaints about a party with drunken high school teens. But there was no alcohol at the party, and the mood was cordial and even playful, with Oliver and Gross joking with the partygoers.

Things changed quickly, though, when shots rang out from a nearby parking lot - which were later determined to have been fired into the air by gang members. Footage from the officers' body cameras showed a chaotic scene with teenagers filling the residential streets. Oliver went to his patrol car and retrieved his service rifle while Gross stopped one car leaving the party and attempted to stop a second car, a Chevrolet Impala driven by Edwards' stepbrother, Vidal Allen.

As the Impala slowly backed away from Gross, Oliver said he heard his partner reading the car's license plate into the radio. Oliver said he took that as an indication that his partner had "keyed in on something."

Gross walked to the passenger side door of the car and broke the back window as he yelled, "Stop the f---ing car." Oliver then fired five rounds into the car in less than one second. One of the shots struck Jordan - who'd warned the others in the car to "duck, get down" - in the head.

Dressed in a dark suit with a lapel pin for autism to honor his 3-year-old son, Tab, Oliver testified that he "had no other option than to use lethal force," and considered Edwards a threat after seeing his silhouette moving in the car. Asked if he would have made the same decision today, Oliver said, "If I had had all of the information? No."

Raised by a single mother, Oliver worked through high school and dropped out during his senior year. He wanted to be a firefighter, but a low test score drove him to seek bonus points given to veterans, he said. He enlisted in the Army, which lead to two combat tours in Iraq.

Within days of the shooting, Oliver was fired from Balch Springs, ending his seven-year tenure as a licensed peace officer. He'd been disciplined once before, for losing his temper with an assistant district attorney during a trial, an incident that was detailed for jurors.

During the trial, the defense called only two witnesses and presented about 30 pieces of evidence, while the state called 26 witnesses and presented about 300 pieces of evidence.

As he had throughout the trial, Oliver sat stoically for four hours on the stand.

Prosecutors characterized him as an "angry, out of control, walking bomb."

Even before closing arguments had begun, a group called Mothers Against Police Brutality announced its plans to hold a "Rally if Roy Oliver Gets Off" should he not be convicted.

The teen's friends and relatives filled the courtroom every day, as did Oliver's parents and wife. Absent from the pews, though, was an outpouring of law enforcement support, despite social media posts by Oliver's union, that "All interested officers are encouraged to attend and show support."