Jury deliberating fate of Dallas police officer who shot unarmed man in his apartment
A Dallas County jury will decide if Amber Guyger committed murder, manslaughter or no crime at all when she shot and killed Botham Jean in 2018. And a judge said jurors can consider the state's Castle Doctrine while deliberating.
A Dallas County jury began deliberating Monday in the murder trial of a Dallas police officer who fatally shot an unarmed man in his home after mistaking his apartment for her own. Amber Guyger, who was fired after the 2018 shooting, lived one floor below 26-year-old Botham Jean, who worked at the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The shooting sparked outrage across the country, as many called it another example of a white police officer killing an unarmed black man. Defense attorneys have said there is no evidence to suggest the shooting was racially motivated.
Guyger, 31, testified Friday that she mistook Jean's fourth-floor apartment for her own, one floor below Jean's. Guyger, who was off duty but still in uniform, said she thought he was a burglar. Guyger had just completed a nearly 14-hour work shift. She tested negative for drugs and alcohol.
Jean 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 and on. It appears he had airpods in his ears. He was dressed comfy, in shorts and a T-shirt.
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.
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 have different theories about where Jean was when he was shot. Prosecutors say 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.
Prosecution focused on Guyger's response
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 Guyger's uniform, which was collected after the shooting.
Guyger texted her partner twice while she was on the phone with 911. Court testimony revealed Guyger and her partner, Martin Rivera, had previously 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...hurru up" and "I [expletive] up."
Guyger's testimony about the shooting
Guyger was the first witness called to the stand by the defense last week. Guyger 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 is considering
The jury will consider whether to convict Guyger of murder or manslaughter. Part of the deliberations will be 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.
If convicted of murder, Guyger faces up to life in prison.
The former officer was initially taken into custody on a manslaughter charge but was later indicted on a murder charge.
The murder indictment says Guyger intentionally shot Jean, causing his death. A manslaughter charge would mean Guyger acted recklessly.
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.
What is the Castle Doctrine, and how does it factor in?
On Monday, Judge Tammy Kemp allowed jurors to consider what's called the "Castle Doctrine" in their deliberations. In general, such laws say 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.
Police relations with communities of color
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.
While it is incredibly rare for a jury to convict a police officer of murder, a Dallas County jury last year did just that. Former Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver was sentenced to 15 years in prison for fatally shooting 15-year-old Jordan Edwards.
“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.”
Former Dallas police officer Vana Hammon Parham is hopeful that no matter what the verdict is, police relations with communities of color aren't strained.
"In all honesty, I believe that Dallas will come together regardless of what happens," she said. "Regardless of what the jury decides, there will be some healing on both sides."
Jean remembered as 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 herself 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 already supporting in life, 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.
Juan Pablo Garnham of The Texas Tribune and Rebecca Lopez of WFAA contributed to this story.
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