Jury Finds Former Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger Guilty Of Murder

Oct 1, 2019
Originally published on October 2, 2019 1:26 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, who is white, has been found guilty of murdering her upstairs neighbor, 26-year-old Botham Jean. Guyger was off duty. She mistakenly entered Jean's apartment, thinking it was her own. She said she shot Jean, who is black, fearing he was a burglar. The case has drawn national attention because of its themes of race and police accountability. NPR's Wade Goodwyn has been covering the trial. He's in Dallas.

Hey, Wade.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Hello.

KELLY: So this jury came to this decision pretty fast - right? - just a little over five hours to find Amber Guyger guilty of murder. Was that a surprise?

GOODWYN: Truthfully, I think it was a surprise. What made this case so interesting and so unpredictable was that both the prosecutors and the defense lawyers were able to marshal different facts, different aspects of the shooting to make very compelling arguments. The defense was able to show that Amber Guyger's entry into Jean's apartment was a big mistake, that she'd parked on the wrong floor of the apartment garage and that lead her to Jean's apartment, that she walked in there believing there was an intruder in her apartment.

On the other hand, prosecutors made a compelling case that even if she did make a mistake, she had no business shooting Jean before he could barely get a word out. You know, she testified that she'd heard Jean inside while she was still out in the hallway, and even though she could have retreated and called for backup, she drew her weapon, and she went in and killed him almost immediately. And in the end, that was the crux, you know? Guyger's geographical errors notwithstanding, trespassing and then killing an innocent, unarmed man in his own apartment was - for this jury, at least - murder.

KELLY: We mentioned she is white. He was black. How did the issue of race play out in the trial?

GOODWYN: In a variety of ways, most of them indirect. The unstated question was, you know, when she saw a young black man, did that help to confirm her mistaken impression that he was a criminal? She testified she thought to herself, intruder, burglar, probably armed. If Jean had been a woman or a white man, might that have given her pause, even if it was just for a second or two to reconsider her perceptions?

And then the judge in the case, Judge Tammy Kemp - she was African American, is African American. And the vast majority of the jury were people of color, and that could have been the determining factor in how the jury perceived and deliberated the evidence that, yes, Amber Guyger made an innocent mistake, but she still has to be held legally accountable for killing Jean. Here's Lee Merritt, lawyer for the Jean family, after the verdict.

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LEE MERRITT: We still have the sentencing phase to go, but this is a huge victory not only for the family of Botham Jean, but as his mother Allison told me a moment ago, this is a victory for black people in America. Police officers are going to be getting to be held accountable for their actions, and we believe that that will begin to change policing culture all over the world.

GOODWYN: Dallas was on edge about this verdict - you know, worried about the reaction if Guyger was found not guilty. Police leave and time off requests had all been canceled.

KELLY: And what about inside the courtroom, Wade? How did people react?

GOODWYN: There were vocalizations of surprise. You know, someone started clapping, and at that, the bailiff yelled, no. And the judge followed that by saying, no outbursts, and that was the end of that. Jean's mother raised her fists above her head, looked upward and quietly said, God is good. The Jeans are a deeply religious family. And then the family all began to hug. You could hear outside the courtroom cheering and chanting in the hallway. And as for Amber Guyger, she looked bereft, shocked.

KELLY: We heard the sentencing phase is what comes next, so what happens? Jurors are back in court trying to figure that out?

GOODWYN: Yeah, so now we're in the punishment phase. Both sides are presenting witnesses who are going to testify to the character of Jean and Guyger. After that's done, the jury is going to retire again and sentence Guyger, and she's going to spend somewhere between five and 99 years in a Texas prison.

KELLY: Thank you, Wade.

GOODWYN: You're quite welcome.

KELLY: NPR's Wade Goodwyn reporting from Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.