Here’s why the jury found Amber Guyger guilty of murder
A Dallas jury convicted fired police officer Amber Guyger, a young white women, of murder in the shooting death of Botham Jean, a young black man. On Sept. 6, 2018, 30-year-old Guyger returned to her apartment building after working a shift as a police officer. She entered Botham Jean’s apartment unit with the door allegedly ajar believing she was entering her own apartment. Guyger allegedly mistakenly believed that Jean was a burglar. She shot and killed him.
These black and white facts make up the simple case scenario. If law students studied this case in a law school textbook or on a bar exam question, conviction of manslaughter, at a very minimum, would be the answer. This case was anything but simple and everything about black and white.
As a former Baltimore prosecutor, I know that facts matter but unspoken issues equally matter. Both sides in the Guyger trial presented compelling arguments and evidence depending on what side of the race aisle one stands. How the jury viewed race likely determined the outcome of the verdict.
The defendant, Amber Guyge took the stand and testified on what some saw as an emotional account of the day in question. As the victim of a homicide, Botham Jean cannot speak for himself.
He cannot emotionally state how he felt as he sat relaxing in his apartment and was gunned down by Guyger, an intruder, in police garb. The medical examiner testified that evidence supports that Guyger shot Jean while he was bending over, trying to get up or lying down.
Guyger was off duty at the time of the shooting. Yet, the jury heard the buzz words often spoken by officers in black male police shootings that she feared for her own life. Those words usually result in a not guilty verdict. As Guyger returned home from work, her actions required no split-second life or death decision, like officers working on the street.
Guyger’s comments to the 911 operator spoke of her concerns for losing her job — not about Botham Jean losing his life. She showed no remorse for her actions. She texts her married partner after the shooting to set up a rendezvous. Did Botham Jean’s life matter at all to her?
Guyger’s entire defense rested on mistaken fact. The jury likely determined the reasonableness of her defense or lack thereof. The jury reviewed Guyger’s actions of parking on the wrong garage floor with a different view than her floor; going to an apartment with a distinguishing bright red door mat on the outside; failing to recognize the different apartment décor inside until after she shot and killed Jean; failing to call for back up before shooting Jean.
Judge Tammy Kemp ruled the jury could consider the Castle Doctrine. It allows use of lethal force to protect one’s home when someone intrudes. Yet, Guyger was the intruder inside Jean’s home. Guyger admitted that she intended to kill Botham Jean — believing him to be an intruder in her home. Her admission likely aided in a murder conviction. Murder requires proof of an intent to kill. Manslaughter requires no proof of intent.
The verdict shocked and surprised me from a race point of view. At the same time, the evidence justified and supported the verdict. For those who desired an acquittal for Guyger, consider the following scenario.
If a young black man entered the apartment of a young white woman under the same circumstances and shot and killed her, would he be given the benefit of the doubt of mistaken fact? I wanted the same verdict for Amber Guyger as if the race tables were turned and she was the victim. I wanted justice to be colorblind for Botham Jean.
Debbie Hines J.D. is a former Baltimore prosecutor. She is presently an attorney in Washington, D.C.
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