Former Cop Guilty Of Murdering Neighbour After Mixing Up Apartments
A jury found a former Dallas police officer guilty of murder Tuesday in the 2018 shooting death of her neighbour.
Amber Guyger testified she thought Botham Jean's apartment was her own when she opened his door and shot him, mistaking him for a burglar.
Guyger, who is white, was returning home from a 13-and-a-half hour shift and was off duty but still in uniform when she shot Jean, a black St. Lucia native who worked as an accountant. Guyger parked on what she believed to be the third floor of her apartment building's garage, but she had actually parked on the building's fourth floor, where Jean lived directly above her. Jean, 26, was sitting on his couch and eating ice cream when Guyger found the door ajar and opened fire.
Jurors had been deliberating since Monday afternoon. Clapping and cries of "guilty" could be heard outside the courtroom after the jury delivered its verdict Tuesday morning. Jean's family members embraced and wiped away tears. Jean's sister could be heard sobbing as his mother raised her hands to the sky, reports CBS Dallas/Fort Worth. Guyger wept as she sat alone at the defence table.
The jury, which is largely made up of women and people of colour, reconvened Tuesday afternoon to begin weighing a punishment for Guyger. She faces anywhere from 5-99 years in prison.
In a statement, Jean family lawyer Lee Merritt expressed gratitude for the conviction. "Botham did not deserve to die. His family deserved justice," Merritt said.
The defence argued that the layout of the Dallas complex was confusing and it wasn't unusual for residents to enter the wrong apartment, believing it was their own. But the prosecution argued Guyger was distracted because she had been exchanging explicit text messages with her police partner, with whom she had a sexual relationship, and missed numerous signs indicating she was in the wrong place.
Prosecutors also asserted that Guyger should have done more to try and help Jean after she shot him but was more concerned about herself, repeatedly telling a 911 operator she was going to lose her job and texting her partner, Martin Rivera.
Prosecutors argued Jean posed no threat and was getting up from the couch when Guyger shot him.
"He's not gonna throw the ice cream at her and kill her, he's not gonna throw the spoon at her and kill her," Assistant District Attorney Jason Fine said in closing arguments Monday. "He's sitting there the same as y'all are right now."
Guyger, 31, was later fired and charged with murder. Speaking for the first time publicly, Guyger testified Friday that she felt "pure fear" when she returned to what she thought was her apartment, found the door ajar and heard "shuffling" inside, thinking someone had broken in. She said she opened the door, saw a silhouette coming toward her and yelled "show me your hands" twice before opening fire.
"I was scared he was going to kill me," Guyger said.
Guyger sobbed several times, at one point so uncontrollably the judge called a brief recess.
As prosecutors presented their case, they played Guyger's frantic 911 call, in which she repeatedly tells a dispatcher she thought Jean's apartment was hers. Jurors also saw police bodycamera footage that showed a frantic Guyger ushering responding officers into the apartment where Jean lay mortally wounded and the officers attempting to revive him. The footage was so disturbing it prompted Jean's family members to walk out of the courtroom, and the judge later apologised for playing it without warning them.
Much of the testimony centred around Guyger's relationship with Rivera, with prosecutors contending that she was planning a rendezvous with him at her apartment later that evening. Guyger denied that, saying she exchanged racy texts with him but had ended their sexual relationship because he was married and she felt it was "morally wrong."
She said she later deleted the text exchanges.
"I was ashamed I was in a relationship with him," Guyger said. "It's embarrassing."
Rivera also took the stand and admitted he also deleted texts from Guyger on his phone.
In closing statements Monday, defence attorneys blasted the prosecution for pointing to "sexts and speculation," saying the relationship between Guyger and Rivera had nothing to do with Jean's death. Defence attorney Toby Shook said the state failed to prove that Guyger's belief that Jean was an intruder in her own apartment was unreasonable and that "the law recognises that mistakes can be made."
He argued that Jean was coming toward Guyger when she opened fire, not getting off his couch as prosecutors suggested.
"A wonderful human being has lost his life, but the evidence shows it's just a tragedy — a horrible, horrible tragedy," Shook said.
In their closing arguments, prosecutors said the case came down to "what is reasonable and what is absurd." Fine argued that Guyger's testimony was "garbage." Assistant District Attorney Jason Hermus pleaded with the jury to send a message that killing an unarmed man in his own home is an unacceptable crime for which Guyger must face punishment.
Jurors were allowed to weigh Texas' so-called "Castle Doctrine" after the judge overruled the prosecution's attempt to keep it out of jury instructions.
Texas' self-defence statute allows for a person to use force when they reasonably believe it's "immediately necessary" to protect themselves against another person's use of unlawful force. The Castle Doctrine, which is similar to "Stand Your Ground" laws in other states, allows such force to be used "in the protection of a home, vehicle or other property if someone attempts to forcibly enter or remove an individual from the premises," according to the Texas Penal Code.
Fine told the jury the statute shouldn't apply to Guyger because she was intruding into Jean's apartment.
"[Jean] has the right to shoot that person under the Castle Doctrine, not the other way around," Fine said.
The judge also allowed jurors to be instructed on Texas' "mistake of fact" statute, a defence based on a person forming a "reasonable belief" based on a mistake that negates "the kind of culpability required for commission of the offense."
In returning the guilty verdict, the jury rejected both defences. They also had the option to find Guyger guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter but convicted her on the murder charge.
"This is a huge victory not only for the family of Botham Jean, but as his mother Allison Jean told me a few minutes ago, it's a victory for black people in America," Merritt, the Jean family attorney, told reporters after the verdict was read. "It's a signal the tide is going to change here. Police officers are going to be held accountable for their actions, and we believe that's going to change policing culture all over the world."
Jean's family wasn't expected to speak publicly until after the sentencing phase of the trial was complete. When asked about what kind of sentence the family was hoping for, Merritt said, "we believe in the wisdom of this jury."
"We believe Botham's life mattered and we want to see a sentence that reflects that," Merritt said.