Former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was convicted of murder Tuesday in the killing of Botham Jean after a controversial trial that invoked race, police misconduct and legal definitions of self-defense.
Despite expectations that it would take longer, a jury voted in less than 24 hours to convict after prosecutors convinced them that the Sept. 6, 2018 shooting was not accidental, but an incident in which Guyger deliberately opened fire before properly assessing the situation. The 31-year-old ex-cop has maintained that after a tiring shift, she simply went to the wrong apartment in her residential complex, one floor above her own, believing it was hers and thought Jean, 26, was an intruder.
Guyger sat motionless once Judge Tammy Kemp announced the conviction. She now faces 5 to 99 years in prison, although appeals are expected.
Despite that, prosecutors argued that firing at Jean was not necessary because he was never a threat. During closing arguments, prosecutor Jason Fine told jurors to imagine the incident from Jean’s perspective — simply coming home to eat a bowl of ice cream when a stranger shoots at him.
Guyger’s defense argued that the Castle Doctrine — which allows for self-defense in one’s own home — applies in her case because she thought she was in her apartment. But Fine countered that Guyer should have seen some obvious indicators: the apartment sign; the red door mat; an electronic indicator that rejected her key, and that she was walking onto carpet from concrete.
“I mean, my God. This is crazy,” Fine said. “It was unreasonable — she should’ve known she was in the wrong apartment.”
The hallway outside the courtroom erupted in cheers after the verdict was read, according to The Dallas Morning News. Botham Jean’s mother, Allison, walked out of the courtroom saying simply “God is good. Trust him.”
Benjamin Crump, attorney for Jean’s family, released a statement shortly after the conviction came down and praised the verdict.
“Nothing will bring Botham back, but today his family has found some measure of justice. What happened on September 6, 2018, is clear to everyone: This officer saw a Black man and shot, without reason and without justification.”
Speaking to reporters, the attorney said: “This verdict is for Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner…for so many unarmed Black and Brown human beings all across America…this verdict is for them.”
Others in the community say they are breathing a sigh of relief, given the history of police shootings that result in officers being acquitted or not charged at all, as in the cases of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York.
“I’m relieved,” Rev. Frederick Haynes, senior pastor at Friendship-West Baptist Church, told the Morning News. “Given the history in this country it is surprising.
Dallas City Councilman Adam Bazaldua also agreed with the verdict, saying, “I am very pleased with the verdict and the outcome of this case. “I have watched our city become divided in this conversation over the past year, and I’m really hopeful that this verdict and justice will help us … move forward as a united city.”
But others mark the conviction as a bittersweet victory.
“The fact that we are surprised by the verdict means we have not all arrived at the point where justice will be served,” said Maxie Johnson, a pastor at West Dallas’ New Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church.
The Shooting and the Trial
Botham Shem Jean was an immigrant from St. Lucia and belonged to a prominent family in the Caribbean nation. He worked as a risk assurance associate for Pricewaterhouse Coopers. He was known for his active role in his church and for being a regular volunteer in his community.
On Sept. 6, 2018, according to police reports and court documents, Guyger a four-year Dallas police veteran, had come home from a 13-hour shift and had gone to an apartment directly above her own. She was off duty, but still in uniform when she went to the door. It was unlocked and not latched correctly when she tried to enter it.
According to an affidavit, Guyger saw that the apartment was dark and thinking a shadow she saw across the room, she drew her weapon, gave verbal commands, then fired twice, striking Jean in the chest.
In evidence presented to the jury, from body camera footage, Jean was dressed in shorts and a T-shirt when he was shot. A bowl of ice cream sat on his ottoman and his open laptop computer sat next to it.
Guyger called 911 while turning on the lights and administered first aid, but when dispatchers asked where she was, she went back to the front door and realized she was in the wrong apartment. Emergency responders took him to a nearby hospital where he was later pronounced dead.
Guyger was placed on administrative leave, then charged with manslaughter three days after the shooting after Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall announced that the investigation into the case would be taken over by the Texas Rangers. The Dallas Police Department fired her later that month. She was indicted on murder charges in November 2018.
Testimony began in Guyger’s trial Sept. 23 and jurors heard audio of the 911 call, along with testimony from neighbors who said it was common to mistakenly wind up on the wrong floor in the apartment building, the South Side Flats just outside of Downtown Dallas.
But jurors also heard Guyger’s own emotional testimony in her own defense. “Why did you shoot, Amber,” asked Defense Attorney Toby Shook. “I was scared he was going to kill me,” Guyger said. She testified that she shot with intent to kill and that she thought he was armed. Once Jean was shot, she said she tried a sternum massage, but prosecutors accused her of providing minimal first aid.
Prosecutors later questioned why she did not back out of the apartment upon seeing what she thought was an intruder and surmised that she should have obviously seen she was at the wrong apartment.
“I hate that I have to live with this every single day of my life and I ask God for forgiveness,” Guyger said.
Experts thought the verdict would take longer, given the possibility of convicting on either manslaughter or murder charges or acquitting Guyger. The jury was given instructions by Kemp that they must consider the murder charge and if they could not convict on that, then they would have to consider the manslaughter charge. If they could not decide on which it should be, then the verdict should be resolved favoring the less heavy charge.
Now that Guyger has been convicted, the question of how long she will serve surfaces. The court reconvened Tuesday afternoon to for jurors to decide. Testimony began proceed in the punishment phase of the case including that of Jean’s sister and mother.
“My life has not been the same,” Allison Jean said. “It’s just been like a roller coaster. I cannot sleep. I cannot eat. It’s just been the most terrible time for me.”
A new round of jury deliberations will follow, although it is not clear when they will be complete. Unless her attorneys can successfully appeal the verdict or the sentence, Guyger will likely serve the entire sentence. It is not eligible for probation.