A white former Dallas police officer who claimed she killed a neighbor in his own apartment in the mistaken belief that he was in her home was found guilty of murder in a killing that triggered national outrage and claims of police racial bias.
On Tuesday, a racially diverse jury convicted Amber Guyger in the tragic shooting death of Botham Jean at the Dallas apartment complex where they both lived.
On Wednesday, the jury gave Guyger only a 10-year murder sentence for fatally shooting Jean. In Texas, the sentence for murder is from five to 99 years in prison.
The jury got the verdict right but failed in giving the correct sentencing.
The jury reached the verdict in Guyger’s high-profile trial after six days of witness testimony.
Cheers erupted in the courthouse as the verdict was announced, and someone yelled “Thank you, Jesus!” In the hallway outside the courtroom, a crowd celebrated and said “Black lives matter” in raised voices. They broke into cheers when the prosecutors walked into the hall.
Guyger, who was arrested and fired from her job as a Dallas police officer after the September 2018 shooting, initially faced a charge of manslaughter. But Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson had said a grand jury could issue a stiffer charge.
Botham Jean’s family had wanted Guyger to be indicted for murder.
Guyger, who is white, was off-duty when she encountered Jean, a 26-year-old unarmed Black man, in his apartment on Sept. 6, 2018 police said. Still in her uniform, Guyger had parked her car in the complex and walked to what she believed was her apartment, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.
The door was slightly ajar as she tried to use her key, which has an electronic chip. When she opened the door, she saw the interior was almost completely dark, according to the affidavit. She described seeing a large silhouette and, believing there was an intruder in her apartment, drew her firearm.
The question of preferential treatment by police for one of their own had been raised. Rather than immediately arresting Guyger on suspicion of murder, it took 72 hours before Guyger was charged.
It is inexplicable why Guyger was not arrested the night of the shooting and why she did not leave the apartment complex in handcuffs.
In a frantic 911 call played repeatedly during the trial, Guyger said “I thought it was my apartment” nearly 20 times. Her lawyers argued that the identical physical appearance of the apartment complex from floor to floor frequently led tenants to the wrong apartments.
Prosecutors, however, questioned how Guyger could have missed numerous signs that she was in the wrong place, and suggested she was distracted by sexually explicit phone messages with her police partner.
They also asked why Guyger didn’t radio in for help when she thought there was a break-in at her home. Guyger said that going through the doorway with her pistol drawn “was the only option that went through my head.”
Jean, who grew up in the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia, came to the U.S. for college and to start a career as an accountant. His shooting drew widespread attention because of the strange circumstances and because it was one in a string of shootings of unarmed Black men by white police officers.
Benjamin Crump, one of the lawyer’s for Jean’s family, said the verdict could turn the tide for cases accusing police officers of unlawful killing.
“The jury’s thoughtful verdict sets a powerful precedent for future cases, telling law enforcement officers that they cannot hide behind the badge but instead will face justice for their wrongful actions,” Crump said in an emailed statement.
The conviction is justice for the victim’s family. Whether it turns the tide for future cases of police-involved shootings still remains to be seen.