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Ex-Dallas cop found guilty of murder in neighbor's death

Amber Guyger guilty of murder

A jury found a former Dallas police officer guilty of murder Tuesday in the 2018 shooting death of her neighbor. Amber Guyger testified she thought Botham Jean's apartment was her own when she opened his door and shot him, mistaking him for a burglar.

Guyger, who is white, was returning home from a 13 ½ hour shift and was off duty but still in uniform when she shot Jean, a black St. Lucia native who worked as an accountant. Guyger parked on what she believed to be the third floor of her apartment building's garage, but she had actually parked on the building's fourth floor, where Jean lived directly above her. Jean, 26, was sitting on his couch and eating ice cream when Guyger found the door ajar and opened fire.

Jurors had been deliberating since Monday afternoon. Clapping and cries of "guilty" could be heard outside the courtroom after the jury delivered its verdict Tuesday morning. Jean's family members embraced and wiped away tears. Jean's sister could be heard sobbing as his mother raised her hands to the sky, reports CBS Dallas/Fort Worth. Guyger wept as she sat alone at the defense table.

The jury, which is largely comprised of women and people of color, reconvened Tuesday afternoon to begin weighing a punishment for Guyger. She faces anywhere from 5 to 99 years in prison. The jury is expected to return to court Wednesday.

In a statement, Jean family lawyer Lee Merritt expressed gratitude for the conviction. "Botham did not deserve to die. His family deserved justice," Merritt said.

The defense argued that the layout of the Dallas complex was confusing and it wasn't unusual for residents to enter the wrong apartment, believing it was their own. But the prosecution argued Guyger was distracted because she had been exchanging explicit text messages with her police partner, with whom she had a sexual relationship, and missed numerous signs indicating she was in the wrong place.

Prosecutors also asserted that Guyger should have done more to try and help Jean after she shot him but was more concerned about herself, repeatedly telling a 911 operator she was going to lose her job and texting her partner, Martin Rivera.

Prosecutors argued Jean posed no threat and was getting up from the couch when Guyger shot him.

"He's not gonna throw the ice cream at her and kill her, he's not gonna throw the spoon at her and kill her," Assistant District Attorney Jason Fine said in closing arguments Monday. "He's sitting there the same as y'all are right now."  

Guyger, 31, was later fired and charged with murder. Speaking for the first time publicly, Guyger testified Friday that she felt "pure fear" when she arrived at what she thought was her apartment, found the door ajar and heard "shuffling" inside, thinking someone had broken in. She said she opened the door, saw a silhouette coming toward her and yelled "show me your hands" twice before opening fire.

"I was scared he was going to kill me," Guyger said.

Guyger sobbed several times, at one point so uncontrollably the judge called a brief recess.

Former cop accused of killing neighbor sobs at trial

As prosecutors presented their case, they played Guyger's frantic 911 call, in which she repeatedly tells a dispatcher she thought Jean's apartment was hers. Jurors also saw police body-camera footage that showed a frantic Guyger ushering responding officers into the apartment where Jean lay mortally wounded and the officers attempting to revive him. The footage was so disturbing it prompted Jean's family members to walk out of the courtroom, and the judge later apologized for playing it without warning them.

Much of the testimony centered around Guyger's relationship with Rivera, with prosecutors contending that she was planning a rendezvous with him at her apartment later that evening. Guyger denied that, saying she exchanged racy texts with him but had ended their sexual relationship because he was married and she felt it was "morally wrong."

She said she later deleted the text exchanges. 

"I was ashamed I was in a relationship with him," Guyger said. "It's embarrassing." Rivera also took the stand and admitted he also deleted texts from Guyger on his phone.

In closing statements Monday, defense attorneys blasted the prosecution for pointing to "sexts and speculation," saying the relationship between Guyger and Rivera had nothing to do with Jean's death. Defense attorney Toby Shook said the state failed to prove that Guyger's belief that Jean was an intruder in her own apartment was unreasonable and that "the law recognizes that mistakes can be made."

He argued that Jean was coming toward Guyger when she opened fire, not getting off his couch as prosecutors suggested.

"A wonderful human being has lost his life, but the evidence shows it's just a tragedy — a horrible, horrible tragedy," Shook said.

In their closing arguments, prosecutors said the case came down to "what is reasonable and what is absurd." Fine argued that Guyger's testimony was "garbage." Assistant District Attorney Jason Hermus pleaded with the jury to send a message that killing an unarmed man in his own home is an unacceptable crime for which Guyger must face punishment.

"Castle Doctrine" rejected

Jurors were allowed to weigh Texas' so-called "Castle Doctrine" after the judge overruled the prosecution's attempt to keep it out of jury instructions.

Texas' self-defense statute allows for a person to use force when they reasonably believe it's "immediately necessary" to protect themselves against another person's use of unlawful force. The Castle Doctrine, which is similar to "Stand Your Ground" laws in other states, allows such force to be used "in the protection of a home, vehicle or other property if someone attempts to forcibly enter or remove an individual from the premises," according to the Texas Penal Code.

Fine told the jury the statute shouldn't apply to Guyger because she was intruding into Jean's apartment.

"[Jean] has the right to shoot that person under the Castle Doctrine, not the other way around," Fine said. 

The judge also allowed jurors to be instructed on Texas' "mistake of fact" statute, a defense based on a person forming a "reasonable belief" based on a mistake that negates "the kind of culpability required for commission of the offense."

In returning the guilty verdict, the jury rejected both defenses. They also had the option to find Guyger guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter but convicted her on the murder charge.

"This is a huge victory not only for the family of Botham Jean, but as his mother Allison Jean told me a few minutes ago, it's a victory for black people in America," Merritt, the Jean family attorney, told reporters after the verdict was read. "It's a signal the tide is going to change here. Police officers are going to be held accountable for their actions, and we believe that's going to change policing culture all over the world."

Victim's family testifies in punishment phase

As the punishment phase got underway Tuesday afternoon, prosecutors had Jean's family members testify about the impact his loss has had on their lives. 

Botham Jean's mother Allison Jean gave emotional testimony, describing her son as an excellent student with a passion for helping others through volunteer work. She said Jean attended the top high school in St. Lucia before attending Harding University in Arkansas, where he was involved with outreach groups, a school choir and the rugby team. She said he was excited when he was offered an internship at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Dallas, and he was later offered a full-time job there.

Choking back tears, Allison Jean said her life has been like a "rollercoaster" since her son's death.

"I cannot sleep, I cannot eat — it's just been the most terrible time for me," Jean said.

Jean said she's worried about her youngest son, an 18-year-old who was very close with his older brother.

"In the beginning, he was just punching down the walls and everything, but now he's gotten quite quiet," Allison Jean said.

Dallas Officer Mistaken Apartment
Botham Jean's mother, Allison Jean, center, escorted by civil rights attorney Lee Merritt, right, is hugged by family members outside the courtroom after former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was found guilty of murder, Oct. 1, 2019. Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP

Botham Jean's older sister, Allisa Findely, 37, testified her family hasn't been the same since her brother's death. She said it's also had an effect on her children, and that her 11-year-old son is now afraid of police officers.

A prosecutor played a video of Jean singing in church as Findley testified, causing her to bow her head. When the prosecutor asked how watching the video made her feel, Findley replied: "That I want my brother back."

Prosecutors also introduced evidence that could weigh in favor of a heavier sentence against Guyger, including Guyger's Dallas police disciplinary history, her social media posts espousing violence, and text messages with racially offensive language.

One meme Guyger saved on Pinterest read: "People are so ungrateful — no one ever thanks me for having the patience not to kill them."

Another Pinterest post read: "I wear all black to remind you not to mess with me, because I'm already dressed for your funeral." Guyger commented beneath the image, "Yeah I got meh a gun, a shovel and an gloves if i were u back da f---- up and get out of me f---- a---."

Jurors saw text messages from Guyger's phone sent as she worked a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Dallas in 2018. When she received a message asking when the parade ended, she responded, "When MLK is dead...oh wait..."

Defense attorneys had sought to keep the jury from seeing the social media posts. 

Prosecutors also called a Dallas police sergeant to testify about a disciplinary incident in which a handcuffed suspect escaped Guyger's custody and a supervisor wasn't notified.

When asked about what kind of sentence the family was hoping for, Merritt said, "we believe in the wisdom of this jury."

"We believe Botham's life mattered and we want to see a sentence that reflects that," Merritt said.

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