Amber Guyger, Ex-Dallas Police Officer, Is Guilty of Murder for Killing Her Neighbor – The New York Times

Amber Guyger, Ex-Dallas Police Officer, Is Guilty of Murder for Killing Her Neighbor – The New York Times

DALLAS — A former Dallas police officer who shot her unarmed black neighbor in his own apartment was found guilty of murder on Tuesday, in an unusual and high-profile case that dealt with issues of race, policing and mistaken identity.

The former officer, Amber R. Guyger, who is white, was charged in the death of her 26-year-old neighbor, Botham Shem Jean, after she said she accidentally went to the wrong floor of their apartment complex, entered the unit directly above hers and fatally shot him last year. Ms. Guyger claimed she thought she was entering her own apartment and acting in self-defense against an intruder.

But on the second day of deliberations, the jury rejected that argument and returned a rare murder conviction against a police officer who, in this case, was off-duty but in uniform.

At a time when other police officers have often been cleared of wrongdoing in the deaths of unarmed black men, family members of Mr. Jean, an accountant who was at home watching television and eating ice cream on the night of the shooting, had braced themselves for the possibility that the jury would return with a lesser charge of manslaughter — or none at all. After the judge read the verdict aloud in the courtroom, Mr. Jean’s mother, Allison Jean, raised her fists in the air and looked upward. “God is good,” she said.

Looking Back

Ms. Guyger, 31, faces a prison sentence of between five and 99 years.

The jury, which will decide the length of punishment, began hearing testimony in the sentencing portion of the trial Tuesday afternoon, during which Ms. Jean testified that she has often been sick and unable to work since the loss of her son, whose birthday fell during the trial. He would have been 28.

“My life has not been the same,” she told the jury. “I cannot sleep. I cannot eat.”

The shooting and its aftermath in September 2018 ignited protests and calls for justice, with demonstrations outside Police Headquarters and inside City Hall. Activists complained that Ms. Guyger was not immediately arrested at the scene but charged with manslaughter several days later. After weeks of community tensions and accusations of preferential treatment for the police, a grand jury came back with the charge of murder.

At a time when other police officers have often been cleared of wrongdoing in the deaths of unarmed black men, the outcome in this case was being closely followed among activists who have called for more police accountability. When the courtroom doors opened on Tuesday, chants erupted in the hallway, as supporters repeated the verdict aloud and shouted an affirmation they had been waiting to hear: “Black lives matter.”

At a news conference after the verdict, lawyers for Mr. Jean’s family recited the names of other black people who have been killed in confrontations that drew public criticism in recent years — Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice — and said they hoped the latest verdict would be a turning point for racial justice and police reform.

CreditPool photo by Tom Fox

“For so many unarmed black and brown human beings across America, this verdict today is for them,” said Benjamin Crump, a civil rights lawyer for the family.

Though the issue of race was not mentioned explicitly in the courtroom, the trial unfolded against the backdrop of a diverse city that is 42 percent Hispanic, 29 percent non-Hispanic white and 24 percent black. The mayor of Dallas, the police chief and the Dallas County district attorney are all black, as is the judge presiding over this case. Of the 12 jurors and four alternates, seven are African-American, four appear to be white and five are of other races and ethnicities.

“People in Dallas County worked hard to create an environment where justice is possible,” said S. Lee Merritt, another civil rights lawyer who represents Mr. Jean’s family, and who has worked on other high-profile police shootings. Mr. Merritt also represented the family of Antwon Rose II, an unarmed black teenager who was killed while fleeing a traffic stop in East Pittsburgh, Pa., last year. In that case, the white officer was acquitted by a majority-white jury.

“I’ve been all over the country,” he said. “This is the most diverse jury I’ve ever seen.”

From the Archives
The killing in Dallas heightened tensions in a city with a decades-old history of racial divisions.

During a weeklong trial in a packed courtroom in Dallas, prosecutors sought to paint Ms. Guyger as aggressive and careless on the night she entered someone else’s home, pulled her service weapon and opened fire. Her defense lawyers argued that she made an unfortunate but understandable mistake during a “perfect storm” of circumstances that ended in tragedy.

Mr. Jean, who was from the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia, lived in an apartment in downtown Dallas, and Ms. Guyger lived directly below him on the third floor.

Aware of the dangers of being a black man in America, he had been careful to wear Ralph Lauren dress shirts and drive the speed limit, his family has said, to avoid even routine encounters with the police.

But he was relaxing at home on the night he had a deadly encounter with the police. Prosecutors have said he was watching television and enjoying a bowl of vanilla ice cream when Ms. Guyger came through his doorway.

“Botham Jean was never a threat to Amber Guyger — never,” Jason Hermus, a prosecutor for Dallas County, told jurors during closing arguments on Monday. “Justice needs to happen in this courtroom today.”

CreditJeff Montgomery/Harding University

Ms. Guyger testified that she was returning home from a long day of work when she accidentally parked on the wrong floor of the complex’s garage. As Ms. Guyger walked down the fourth-floor hallway, she said, she did not notice that anything was amiss, including the red doormat outside Mr. Jean’s door.

The door strike plate was defective and not fully latched closed, according to the defense, allowing Ms. Guyger to enter using her own keys.

When Ms. Guyger saw someone inside, she said, she drew her gun and shouted, “Let me see your hands.” She testified that Mr. Jean was walking toward her and shouting “Hey” when she fired her weapon twice, striking Mr. Jean once in the torso and killing him.

“I was scared he was going to kill me,” she told jurors when she took the stand last week.

Her testimony conflicted with prosecution witnesses, including neighbors who said they did not hear verbal commands and a medical examiner, who testified that the bullet had a downward trajectory, indicating that Mr. Jean was either getting up from a seated position or was “in a cowering position” when he was shot.

Toby Shook, a lawyer for Ms. Guyger, asked the jury to consider that she had made a mistake, one that was common in an apartment complex where many residents interviewed by investigators said they had parked on the wrong floor by accident.

“A wonderful human being has lost his life,” Mr. Shook said of Mr. Jean in closing arguments. “But the evidence shows it is just a tragedy — a horrible, horrible tragedy.”

Jason Fine, another prosecutor on the case, urged the jury to be the “voice of the community” and hold Ms. Guyger accountable.

“This cannot be acceptable,” he said. “Not here in Dallas, not here in Texas, not anywhere. Your home is supposed to be your sanctuary where you feel safe.”

Marina Trahan Martinez reported from Dallas, and Sarah Mervosh from New York.

Amber Guyger Trial

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