Amber Guyger—a white former cop in Dallas who fatally shot her black neighbor after mistaking his apartment for her own—was found guilty of murder on Tuesday.
The 31-year-old was convicted for the Sept. 6, 2018, slaying of 26-year-old Botham Jean in a case that prompted mass protests in Dallas against racial bias and police use of excessive force.
Jean, a 26-year-old accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, was sitting on his couch eating vanilla ice cream around 10 p.m. when Guyger entered his apartment and shot at him twice: one bullet hitting the wall behind Jean and another fatally striking his chest. Guyger said that she’d confused his apartment for her own and believed he was an intruder, shooting at him in self-defense.
“I thought it was my apartment,” Guyger told dispatchers 19 times on the frantic 911 call played in court. “I thought it was my apartment. I’m fucked. Oh my God. I’m sorry.”
Guyger, who now faces up to 99 years in prison, will be sentenced on Tuesday afternoon. According to reporters in the courtroom, the ex-cop and her mother began to cry as soon as the verdict was read, while Jean’s mom threw both of her arms up in the air.
Throughout the week-long trial, prosecutors argued that Guyger was “distracted” by her affair with her partner and missed all the signs that suggested she was in the wrong apartment. Attorneys for Guyger, however, claimed that the off-duty cop was simply “exhausted” after a 13-hour shift, using the “mistake of fact” code of penal law to defend her actions.
“Mistake of fact is the same thing that you’re hearing when you hear the police say, ‘We thought he had a gun,’” Dallas defense attorney Russell Wilson told The Dallas Morning News.
The defense also called on the Castle Doctrine, a version of “stand your ground” law, which gives people broad protections for the use of force in self-defense of a person’s property, allowing a person to use lethal force against an intruder in their own home. The prosecution argued against allowing the jury to consider the doctrine.
During a private session with the prosecution and defense teams before jury deliberations on Monday, Judge Tammy Kemp ruled the jury could consider the Castle Doctrine, as well as the lesser manslaughter charge, during their deliberations.
The sequestered jurors deliberated for about five hours on whether or not it was reasonable for Guyger to believe she was in her own home at the time of the shooting. They ultimately concluded it was not.
Believing she was on the third floor, prosecutors argued, the five-year veteran was so distracted when she parked at her Dallas apartment building that she didn’t notice walking to Jean’s fourth-floor apartment—despite his bright red doormat.
“I mean, my God. This is crazy. It was unreasonable—she should’ve known she was in the wrong apartment,” Dallas County Assistant District Attorney Jason Fine said at the trial.
Guyger testified in court Friday that she was exhausted on the night of the shooting and mistakenly parked on the wrong floor. The ex-cop said she had been talking with her police partner, Martin Rivera, as she parked her car on the fourth floor of the apartment complex.
“I was just ready to go home,” she told jurors, describing her mindset as she approached Jean’s door.
According to Guyger, she believed someone was inside her apartment when she noticed the door was unlocked and hearing the sound of someone walking inside the dark apartment. She said she ordered Jean multiple times to show her his hands, but he continued to walk towards her, shouting, “Hey, hey, hey!”
“I thought that he was coming at me. I was scared he was gonna kill me,” she said, admitting she was shooting to kill when she pulled the trigger. After shooting Jean, Guyger said she realized she was in the wrong apartment and “had no idea” where she was.
“I compare it to being in a car wreck,” she testified. “You don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
While fighting back tears, Guyger added, “I ask God for forgiveness, and I hate myself every single day. I wish he was the one with the gun who had killed me. I never wanted to take an innocent person's life.”
The prosecution probed at Guyger’s actions after making the grave discovery. During cross-examination, Fine accused Guyger of not reacting to the best of her abilities. Guyger said she gave Jean a “little CPR,” but also said she stopped CPR in order to figure out where she was and call 911.
The ex-cop has previously claimed it was not until she turned on the lights and emergency dispatchers asked for her address that she realized she was in the wrong apartment unit.
Guyger also admitted to texting her married police partner in the minutes after the shooting. Prosecutors previously revealed that while she was still on the phone with emergency dispatchers, Guyger texted Rivera, “Hurry, I need you. I fucked up.”
The two partners talked on the phone three minutes before the incident. According to prosecutors, the “intimate” nature of that phone call “distracted” Guyger.
“Prior to that conversation Amber Guyger was able to effectively do her job,” Assistant District Attorney Jason Hermus said during his opening statement. “Amber Guyger made a series of unreasonable errors and unreasonable decisions and unreasonable choices.”
Fine called Guyger’s story “crazy.” After the defense’s closing statements Fine began reading from Guyger’s own testimony—in which she said she never wanted “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 a copy of the testimony and throwing it in the trash. “Most of what she said was garbage. Ninty-nine percent of this trial has been about the defendant.”
Defense attorney Toby Shook did not rely on gaining sympathy for Guyger from the jury.
Instead, he argued that the prosecution did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Guyger intended to kill that night. Shook characterized the shooting as a “horrible perfect storm” and that Guyger made a “horrible, horrible mistake,” but that did not equate to murder or even manslaughter.
“You can be angry with her. You can hate her, but you can't convict her because there's no evidence as to the decisions that were made in that apartment,” Shook said.