Ex-Cop Guilty of Murder in Fatal Apartment Mix-Up

Fired Dallas police officer Amber Guyger leaves the courtroom after a jury found her guilty of murder Tuesday. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool)

DALLAS (CN) – After less than 24 hours of deliberations, a Dallas County jury convicted fired police officer Amber Guyger of murder Tuesday for killing an unarmed black man in his apartment that she mistook for her own.

Jurors unanimously concluded Guyger, 31, acted unreasonably in the shooting after she erroneously parked on the fourth floor of the South Side apartments near downtown on Sept. 7, 2018. She mistook an apartment belonging to Botham Jean, 26, for her apartment that was on the third floor, entered the ajar door before firing into the dark at what she believed was an intruder inside, striking Jean in the chest.

Guyger was in her police uniform but was off-duty after working a 15-hour shift. Jean was in his boxer shorts, enjoying a bowl of vanilla ice cream in front of the television.

The former officer was silent and looking down as the verdict was read. Loud cheers erupted from the crowd outside the courtroom who watched the video stream of the court’s proceedings.

Jurors deliberated for less than 24 hours after the seven-day trial.

The murder case has drawn international attention with critics deeming it the latest example of an unarmed black man being unnecessarily killed by police in the United States. Guyger’s supporters insist the killing was a tragic accident and she had no idea what Jean’s race was before she opened fire.

Jean’s family, from the Caribbean country of St. Lucia, left the courtroom after the verdict was read, smiling and hugging each other.

Attorney Benjamin Crump, who represents the Jeans in a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, told reporters, “America finally saw the humanity of an unarmed black man who was killed in an unjustifiable way.”

“Thank God. Finally,” Crump said. “They returned a verdict that is befitting the criminal, cowardly act of this woman.”

Jean worked as an accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Dallas. He graduated from Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, in 2016. By all accounts, Jean was a well-liked and deeply religious man who was often overhead singing gospel songs by his neighbors.

Shortly after the verdict, Jean’s employer described his death as a “heartbreak for all of us.”

“I’m asking you to remember the tremendous person we lost at the center of this, our beloved friend and colleague Bo,” said Tim Ryan, U.S. chair and senior partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. “He is dearly missed, but we can make sure his impact lives on by being kind and generous to everyone around us.”

Guyger’s attorneys have insisted she did not murder Jean, instead arguing she committed a reasonable “mistake of fact” in entering the wrong apartment due to a lack of signage and confusing floor plans.

During closing arguments Monday, defense attorney Toby Shook reminded jurors that the prosecution’s own investigator witnesses testified that 93 people in the building said they had entered the wrong floor before, with 46% of residents on the third and fourth floors admitting they had parked on the wrong floor like Guyger.

Shook said that mistake of fact justified her using self-defense to shoot at what she believed was an intruder in her home.

Assistant District Attorney Jason Fine dismissed such a defense as “ridiculous” during closing arguments, calling it “garbage” and framing the case as being about “what is reasonable and what is absurd.”

Fine ridiculed Guyger’s claim that she fired out of fear for her life.

“He is not going to throw the ice cream to kill her,” Fine said. “He is not going to throw his spoon to kill her. Ridiculous.”

Fine told jurors they cannot allow police “busting into homes” and killing innocent homeowners, saying they are “the voice” of the community.

Guyger was accused of being distracted and inattentive that night because she was sexting with her married police partner and the messages suggested they were having a romantic meeting later that night. Guyger admitted they had an affair, but denied they were going to meet that night.

Prosecutors argued the distraction resulted in Guyger missing several obvious cues that she was on the wrong floor and entering the wrong apartment, including that fact that Jean placed a red floor mat outside his front door.

The defense dismissed the sexting as a non-issue, stating Guyger simply did not see the mat because she was carrying her armored vest, lunch box and backpack with her arms.

The prosecution also portrayed Guyger as selfish and uncaring after the shooting, freezing body camera footage for the jury showing her texting on her phone while first responders worked frantically inside the apartment to save Jean.

Dallas County Judge Tammy Kemp barred explosive testimony from Texas Ranger and lead investigator David Armstrong on the third day of trial. Testifying as to the technical details of the crime scene, Armstrong stunned prosecutors when he told defense attorneys during cross-examination that he believed Guyger committed no crime and acted reasonably in the situation.

Kemp allowed Armstrong to testify Saturday when called as an expert defense witness, but she specifically barred testimony as to Guyger’s state of mind due to it being a question of fact that is for the jury to decide.

Prosecutors further emphasized how Guyger failed to deploy her Taser or pepper spray before shooting Jean, saying she disregarded her training in not retreating and calling for backup. Her attorneys explained that she was not on duty or responding to a burglary call and simply returning home from work.

The most emotional testimony came from Guyger herself on the fifth day of trial. She apologized repeatedly for killing Jean.

“I hate that I have to live with this … I feel like a terrible person, like a piece of crap,” she said. “I hate myself every day. I wish he was the one who killed me.”

Prosecutors scored a victory during cross-examination when Guyger admitted she intended to kill Jean when she fired her gun. Her intent to kill was the determinative element in proving the prosecution’s murder case, a bar that is higher than the recklessness needed to secure a lower conviction of manslaughter.

The trial now moves onto the sentencing phase. Guyger faces up to life in state prison.

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