The Slatest

Amber Guyger Convicted of Murder in Shooting of Botham Jean in His Own Apartment

Amber Guyger, looking solemn, walks among a group of people at the court house.
Amber Guyger on the first day of her trial in Dallas on Sept. 23.
Reuters/Jeremy Lock

Amber Guyger—the Dallas police officer who, in 2018, fatally shot Botham Jean, a black man, after allegedly mistaking his apartment for her own—has been found guilty of murder, the jury announced Tuesday.

In its decision, the jury—which was in its second day of deliberation—rejected the defense’s argument that Guyger should be cleared on the state’s obscure “castle doctrine,” a variation on a “stand your ground” defense that contends a person has the right to shoot someone who is trespassing illegally on their property. The jurors also declined to convict Guyger on a lesser charge of manslaughter, rather than murder.

Dallas County District Court Judge Tammy Kemp shocked many when she ruled on Monday that the jury could consider the castle doctrine in its deliberations. As a result, the defense was able to paint the crime as a tragic accident and focus on arguments of self-defense, even though the 26-year-old Jean had been quietly enjoying ice cream in his home and at no point posed a real threat to Guyger.

Guyger’s defense returned repeatedly to her exhaustion, as she had just wrapped up a lengthy shift at work. The prosecution showed that she had been exchanging sexually explicit text messages with her partner earlier that day and argued that she may have been distracted by the texts.

According to Guyger, she entered the apartment directly above hers because she had accidentally parked on the wrong level of the building’s parking structure. The lead investigator for the case argued that this was a common mistake in the building.

Guyger entered the apartment, still in uniform, around 10 p.m. She said she saw Jean and, assuming he was a burglar, moved forward, demanding he put his hands up. She claims he then moved quickly toward her, and she fired twice, hitting him once. She quickly realized that she was in the wrong apartment and called 911, repeating 19 times that she had thought she was in her own apartment. She then provided some first aid to Jean, but the prosecution argued that she had not done enough.

It became apparent before the trial that Guyger received favorable treatment from other officers after the accident. Police left her alone at the crime scene, a member of a police union was allowed to speak to her before her arrest, and Texas Ranger David Armstrong, the lead investigator for the case, told the court (though not the jury) that he did not believe she had committed a crime. In a move that outraged critics even more, police searched Jean’s apartment for drugs, found marijuana, and made that information available to news media. The family described the move as an attempted smear against the victim. This and other actions by law enforcement caused critics to point to race as a factor—a line of argument Kemp banned in her courtroom.

Prosecutors have maintained that Guyger had been unreasonable, that she should have noticed that it wasn’t her apartment, and that regardless, any kind of self-defense arguments should not apply when she had been the one to enter his apartment.

Guyger was initially charged with manslaughter, but a grand jury indicted her on a murder charge a month later. She now faces five years to life in prison.

Correction, Oct. 1, 2019: An earlier version of this article misidentified the defense’s argument citing the castle doctrine as the prosecution’s argument.