Photo: Tom Fox (The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool)
After less than 24 hours of deliberation, a 12-person jury has found ex-Dallas Police officer Amber Guyger guilty of murdering her neighbor, 26-year-old Botham Jean.
Jean was unarmed and eating a bowl of ice cream in his apartment when Guyger, off-duty but in uniform, barged into his home and fatally shot him on Sept. 6, 2018. She claimed she had mistaken his apartment for hers, and thought Jean was a burglar.
As the week-long trial drew to a close on Monday, the jury was given the option of delivering a murder or manslaughter conviction or acquitting Guyger altogether. The 31-year-old now faces up to life in prison.
As CNN reports, Botham Jean’s mother, Allison Jean, threw her arms up in the air when the guilty verdict was delivered. Another woman shouted in praise before she was silenced by the bailiff.
The celebrations recommenced once Judge Tammy Kemp dismissed the room, with cheering, clapping, and chants of “Guilty! Guilty!” and “Black lives matter!” bursting from the hallway. The Dallas Morning News reports that as Allison Jean left the courtroom, she said, “God is good. Trust him.” Botham Jean’s grandmother raised her fist in the air as walked out into the hallway.
The high-profile case made national headlines a year ago, drawing outrage that hinged both on the senselessness of Jean’s death and the racial dynamics of the case. Guyger, who is white, said she feared for her life when she saw Jean in what she believed to be her apartment; many wondered if she would have had such a reaction—drawing her gun and shooting Jean—if he weren’t black.
During the course of the trial, Guyger, who was fired from the Dallas Police force within weeks of the shooting, confirmed she had explicitly intended to kill Jean, though she admitted she had other options available to her, such as retreating and radioing a nearby police station for backup. Guyger’s clearly expressed intention could have been crucial in the jury’s decision to deliver a guilty verdict: In Texas, premeditation is not required to convict a person of murder, but a jury must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that a person intended to kill her victim.
Lead prosecutor Jason Hermus emphasized this to the jury during the trial.
“It was her intent at the moment she shot him, to kill,” he said, according to WFAA TV. “The defendant has committed murder.”
“‘Self-defense’ means acting defensively,” he added. “She became the aggressor. That’s not self-defense.”
The prosecution also argued that Jean was not a threat and could not reasonably be deemed so, noting the trajectory of the bullet suggested Jean was either getting up from the couch or cowering when Guyger fired at him, NBC News writes. Prosecutors spent a great deal of time comparing both Jean’s and Guyger’s apartments, trying to convince jurors that Guyger missed clear markers that she was at the wrong apartment—like Jean’s red doormat or ottoman, neither of which Guyger had in her home.
But defense lawyers insisted that Jean’s death was a tragic accident, and Guyger merely acting in self-defense. Because their argument rested on Guyger’s perception that she was in her home, District Judge Tammy Kemp instructed jurors on Monday that they may consider the Castle Doctrine, akin to “stand your ground” laws in other parts of the country, when deciding Guyger’s sentence.
As the Dallas Morning News reports, jurors gave the Doctrine ample consideration in their decision-making:
An attorney for the Jean family, Daryl K. Washington, told reporters that the jury sent two notes to state District Judge Tammy Kemp, asking for clarification on the charge of manslaughter — they’ve been given a choice between murder, manslaughter and acquittal — and for more information about the castle doctrine.”
“If Amber Guyger is allowed to use that defense … what would’ve happened if Botham would’ve shot her for coming into his home?” Washington said, citing the jury’s question. “Would he have been able to use the castle doctrine?”
The jury will now resume deliberating to decide Guyger’s sentence, which could run anywhere from 5 years in prison to 99 years. She will not be eligible for probation.
Guyger is the first Dallas officer convicted of murder since the 1970s.