By JUAN PABLO GARNHAM and STACY FERNÁNDEZ of The Texas Tribune
TASHA TSIAPERAS and BRADLEY BLACKBURN of WFAA-TV
(The Texas Tribune) – A Dallas County jury found former police officer Amber Guyger guilty of murder Tuesday morning.
Guyger, who shot and killed Botham Jean, an unarmed 26-year-old Black man, in his own apartment, said she mistook Jean’s fourth-floor apartment as her own and thought he was a burglar. Guyger, who is 31 and White, lived one floor directly below Jean. She was off duty, but still in her uniform when she shot him.
His death – and her subsequent trial – grabbed national attention and sparked a passionate conversation throughout the city and across the nation about race, policing and gun violence.
The jury reached its decision the day after closing arguments were presented. Guyger’s trial now turns to the sentencing phase, and both the Jean and Guyger families will be allowed to testify. In Texas, a murder conviction can result in a sentence ranging from five years to life in prison.
Though court resumed later that afternoon for the sentencing, the trial was scheduled to continue Wednesday morning.
Jean’s final moments
Guyger parked on the fourth floor the night Jean died and walked to his fourth-floor apartment, which was directly a floor above her own.
Several residents of the South Side Flats, where Guyger and Jean lived, have testified that they’ve also parked on the wrong floor of the parking garage and even walked to the wrong apartment door.
Jean, who worked at the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, was sitting on his couch eating vanilla ice cream topped with crumbled chocolate chip cookies and watching TV when Guyger mistakenly walked into his apartment. His laptop was open. It appears he had AirPods in his ears. He was dressed comfy, in shorts and a T-shirt.
Jurors were shown dozens of crime scene photos of Jean’s and Guyger’s apartments. They also watched videos showing the walk from the parking garage through the apartment hallways for both the third and fourth floors.
There was a bright red doormat outside Jean’s apartment. His apartment was the only one with such a noticeable doormat on the third or fourth floor.
Guyger’s keys were in Jean’s door when the first officers arrived. The doors at the apartments take an electronic lock, which turns like a normal key.
Jean hadn’t locked his door when he returned home from running an errand. The door wasn’t fully closed and latched the night of the shooting.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys had different theories about where Jean was when he was shot. Prosecutors said he was still sitting on the couch when Guyger shot him. Defense attorneys say Jean was walking or lunging toward her when she pulled the trigger.
An arrest warrant for Guyger said she performed first aid on Jean, but evidence presented during the trial has not shown that to be the case.
Guyger was outside Jean’s apartment when the first officers arrived, body camera footage showed. There was no blood found on her uniform, which was collected after the shooting.
She texted her partner twice while she was on the phone with 911. Court testimony revealed she and her partner, Martin Rivera, had been in an intimate relationship. They had been sending steamy text messages to each other throughout the afternoon and evening.
While on the phone with 911, Guyger texted Rivera, “I need you … hurry up” and “I f—-d up.”
Guyger was the first witness called to the stand by the defense last week. She became emotional several times on the stand as she was questioned about her actions before and after she fatally wounded Botham Jean inside his apartment.
“I feel like a piece of crap,” she testified. “I hate that I have to live with this every single day, and I ask God for forgiveness and hate myself every single day.”
While Guyger said she was shocked after realizing she was in the wrong apartment and had just shot “an innocent man,” the prosecution questioned why she didn’t call for backup from the start when she heard movement inside the unit.
The prosecution also alleged Guyger seemed more focused on herself than Jean, pointing out that she didn’t properly administer CPR and sent messages to her former police partner before officers arrived on the scene.
“All this talk about a sad mistake, when the rubber meets the road, you intended to kill Mr. Jean,” prosecutor Jason Hermus said.
“He [Jean] was the threat, yes, sir,” she replied of what she thought at the time of the shooting.
“You intended to kill Mr. Jean,” Hermus asked.
“I did,” she testified.
What the jury was considering
The jury considered whether to convict Guyger of murder or manslaughter. Part of the deliberations was to determine whether Guyger reasonably thought she was inside her own apartment at the time of the shooting and whether a reasonable person in her position would have shot Jean in self-defense, as she alleges.
The former officer was initially taken into custody on a manslaughter charge but was later indicted on a murder charge. Murder carries a sentence of up to life in prison. Manslaughter, which is a second-degree felony, carries a sentencing range of two to 20 years. If Guyger is convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to less than 10 years in prison, she could receive probation.
There is a precedent in police shootings to include a lesser charge of manslaughter.
In the case of fired Balch Springs Officer Roy Oliver, the jury was given the option to find him guilty of murder or of manslaughter in the death of Jordan Edwards. The jury ultimately convicted Oliver of murder.
The Castle Doctrine
On Monday, Judge Tammy Kemp allowed jurors to consider the Castle Doctrine in their deliberations. In general, such laws state people are allowed to use deadly force without retreating first in their occupied homes, vehicles or workplaces. Texas passed a Castle Doctrine law, removing the duty to retreat in one’s home in 1995.
In 2007, Texas passed a law that goes further than the Castle Doctrine. The Texas law removed the duty to retreat for people who are attacked, as long as they have the “right to be present at the location where the force is used.” In other words, Texans are allowed to use force in self-defense before retreating as long as they are not intruding on private property.
Black and blue
Unlike many headline-grabbing cases of officers killing unarmed people of color, Guyger was not on duty when she killed Jean. And, according to testimony, she thought he was an intruder in her home.
But Dallas’ Black community has closely followed each step of Guyger’s trial. Changa Higgins, a community activist and leader of the Dallas Community Police Oversight Coalition, said it’s hard to ignore the history of American law enforcement officers killing unarmed people of color without being prosecuted or convicted.
“This case is kind of different. The circumstances, the way she took his life are so blatant, whether it was an accident or not,” Higgins said. “This case shows us that Black lives can be taken in this way, even when you are doing everything in life the way you are supposed to.”
A “beautiful person”
Jean’s family members have been in court every day to listen to the testimony. Hundreds gathered in a Dallas ballroom Sunday night – which would have been Jean’s 28th birthday – to honor his life at a “red tie” event. Red was Jean’s favorite color. The event also raised money for the Botham Jean Foundation.
“We are strong because there’s no other choice but to be strong,” said Jean’s mother, Allison Jean. “We are hoping that this week we get a birthday gift for Botham, and that will be justice for him.”
Allison Jean said it has been extremely difficult to be in the courthouse for the trial, as attorneys replay body camera footage and detail the final moments of her son’s life. Friday, she was there to hear directly from Guyger as she gave her emotional account of the event on the stand in her own defense.
“My son was a beautiful person. And the way he died was just wrong,” Allison Jean said.
Contributions to the Botham Jean Foundation will go toward projects Jean was supporting while alive, including efforts to provide clean drinking water and combat poverty around the world.
“We will do it for him,” said Jean’s sister Alissa Findley.
After the ‘guilty’ verdict
“Nothing will bring Botham back, but today his family has found some measure of justice. What happened on Sept. 6, 2018 is clear to everyone: This officer saw a Black man and shot, without reason and without justification,” Lee Merritt, one of the attorneys for the Jean family said in a statement after Guyger was found guilty.
“We believe Botham’s life mattered, and we want to see a sentence that reflects that.”
After the jury handed down a conviction Tuesday, the court turned to the punishment phase of the hearing. The jury heard from character witnesses for Jean and Guyger, with both parties’ parents speaking to the jury.
In a closing statement, a Dallas County prosecutor asked the jury to hand down a sentence of no less than 28 years, symbolic for how old Jean would have become days ago. In Texas, a murder conviction can result in a sentence ranging from five years to life in prison.
After deliberating for one and a half hours, the jury sentenced Guyger to 10 years in prison.
“In light of today’s verdict, it is important to remember that no single court decision can remedy all that ails our society” and true justice is a result of “deliberate, systematic changes,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a statement.
“That’s why more than 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’”
He added that while the Jean family will never be the same again, the verdict may bring some closure.
This article was originally published as three separate articles. Rebecca Lopez of WFAA contributed to this story.
This article was first published at https://www.texastribune.org/2019/09/30/texas-castle-doctrine-could-factor-amber-guygers-murder-trail and https://www.texastribune.org/2019/10/01/amber-guyger-verdict-former-dallas-police-officer-found-guilty-murder by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans – and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.