A Texas jury rejected former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger's self-defense claims and convicted her of murder on Tuesday in the fatal 2018 shooting of an innocent man eating ice cream in his own home after mistaking his apartment for her own.
The 12-member jury reached its verdict after deliberating for less than two days. Guyger stood as Dallas County District Court Judge Tammy Kemp read the decision.
The family members of Botham Jean, the neighbor Guyger shot to death on Sept. 6, 2018, burst into tears as the jury granted them a measure of justice. Jean's mother, Allison Jean, held her head back and stared at the ceiling, raising her hands, thankful that justice for her son had been served.
The 31-year-old Guyger, who was fired from the Dallas Police Department days after the shooting, faces a prison sentence of five to 99 years. The sentencing phase of the trial is scheduled to begin later Tuesday and the jury is expected to hear from Jean's family members before rendering punishment.
"We believe that Botham's life mattered and we want a sentence that reflects that," Lee Merritt, an attorney for Jean family, said at a post-verdict news conference.
Upon hearing the verdict, Guyger appeared to wipe tears from her eyes with a tissue as she sat back down at the defense table.
"Nothing will bring Botham back, but today his family has found some measure of justice," Ben Crump, a lawyer for Jean's family, said in a statement. "What happened on September 6, 2018, is clear to everyone: This officer saw a black man and shot, without reason and without justification. The jury’s thoughtful verdict sets a powerful precedent for future cases, telling law enforcement officers that they cannot hide behind the badge but instead will face justice for their wrongful actions."
The verdict followed a trial that lasted a little over a week. The jury was sequestered throughout the proceedings.
The jury began deliberations Monday afternoon after prosecutors told them in their closing argument that Guyger made a series of "unreasonable decisions" that cost an innocent man his life. Defense attorneys countered that she made "reasonable" mistakes that led her to resort to lethal force because she believed her life was in jeopardy.
Crump later said at a news conference that the jury made "history today in America." He then cited other African Americans killed by police who were cleared of wrongdoing, including 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was killed by a white Cleveland police officer.
Crump said the verdict was "for so many unarmed black and brown people all over America" killed by police.
The jury came to its decision after asking for clarification on the definition of manslaughter and a clearer explanation of the Castle Doctrine, a legal protection for a homeowner who uses deadly force inside their home against an intruder.
Guyger's defense team attempted to use the Castle Doctrine, which is similar to Florida's "stand your ground" law, as a defense, arguing that while she was in the wrong apartment, in her mind she believed she was in her own unit, which was a floor below Jean's. The prosecution countered that the Castle Doctrine did not apply in the case.
Before the jurors began deliberations, Judge Kemp gave them a series of instructions, including offering the panel the option of weighing whether Guyger committed murder or manslaughter when she mistakenly entered Jean's apartment and fatally shot him believing he was an intruder.
In his closing argument on Monday, Dallas County Assistant District Attorney Jason Fine stood before jurors and asked them to reject Guyer's "crazy" contention that she shot the 26-year-old Jean in self-defense because she believed she was in her own apartment and that the victim, who was sitting on his couch eating ice cream, was going to kill her.
Fine began by reading from a piece of paper an excerpt from Guyger's testimony last week, in which she said, "I never want anybody to have to go through or even imagine going through what I felt that night."
"Are you kidding me? That is garbage," Fine said, crumpling up the paper and throwing it in the trash. "Most of what she said was garbage. Ninety-nine percent of this trial has been about the defendant."
Fine asked the jury to put themselves in the shoes of both Jean and Guyger when they entered the deliberation room.
"He's eating ice cream on his couch. So, if you're sitting and eating ice cream you get shot in the heart? Is that what we're saying?" Fine said.
"This has to do with that defendant making unreasonable decisions that put her in that seat and Bo in the ground," Fine said, pointing to Guyger at the defense table.
By all accounts, Jean was an upstanding citizen who directed his choir at his church and was an accountant for the international auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The company issued a statement following the verdict that Jean was "dearly missed."
"Bo’s death was a heartbreak for all of us at PwC. I’m asking you to remember the tremendous person we lost at the center of this, our beloved friend and colleague Bo. He is dearly missed, but we can make sure his impact lives on by being kind and generous to everyone around us." Tim Ryan , US chair and senior partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said in a statement.
Guyger, who had been a Dallas police officer for four years, testified in her own defense.
She told the jury that on the night of the shooting she was tired from a long day at work and mistakenly parked on the wrong floor. She said the parking floors at her apartment building were not clearly marked.
She reenacted how she reached the apartment door, with her backpack, lunchbox and police vest in her left hand, and testified that she heard the sound of someone walking inside.
When Guyger put the key into the lock that night, she said she noticed the door was "cracked open" and that putting the key into the lock forced the door open to the dark apartment. Guyger said she had experienced problems getting the door to lock completely at her apartment.
Jean was sitting on his couch when Guyger opened his front door and shot him without giving him a chance to surrender, prosecutors said.
Guyger said she saw the silhouette of a figure, so she pulled her "gun out and I yelled at him."
She told the jurors the figure was moving around and she could not see his hands, and that the man "was yelling, 'Hey! Hey! Hey!' in an aggressive voice."
Guyger reenacted the next moment for the jurors, holding her right hand out as if she was holding a gun. Guyger said Jean was moving toward her when she fired.
Her attorney asked why she fired, and Guyger replied, "I was scared he was gonna kill me."