Former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was found guilty of murder on Tuesday for fatally shooting her 26-year-old unarmed neighbor, Botham Jean, in his own apartment after saying she mistook it for her own.
The jury returned its verdict shortly after Jean, a black man from the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia who worked as an accountant in Dallas, would have turned 28.
After Judge Tammy Kemp read out the verdict in court, Jean's family broke out in cheers and a family member could be heard crying. A stone-faced Guyger was later seen walking out of the courtroom during a recess.
Attorneys for Jean's family thanked the jury for delivering a verdict that made "history in America."
"This verdict is for Trayvon Martin," civil rights attorney Ben Crump told reporters after the verdict. "It's for Michael Brown. It's for Sandra Bland. It's for Tamir Rice. It's for Eric Garner... it's for so many unarmed black and brown human beings."
The Dallas jury was comprised of eight women and four men. Five of the jurors were black, four were Hispanic, two were white, and one was Asian.
Jean's mother, Allison Jean, took the stand Tuesday afternoon to testify about her son during the sentencing phase of the proceedings. She talked about his many academic achievements, his missionary work, and his passion for singing in a choir. As her middle son, he was "the glue" who brought her oldest daughter and her youngest son together.
Allison Jean broke down as she recalled the moment she heard her son had been shot. She said she last saw her son in February 2018, nearly seven months before he was killed.
"My life has not been the same," she said. "It's just been like a roller coaster. I cannot sleep, I cannot eat. It’s just been the most terrible time for me. I’m not able to work. I just try to busy myself to see if it will get out of my head, but it's been very, very, very difficult."
During the emotional week-long trial, Guyger took the stand to testify about the Sept. 6, 2018 shooting. She broke down twice during the dramatic testimony, prompting the judge to call for a recess.
“I was scared he was going to come at me and kill me,” Guyger, 31, told the court on Friday.
“I feel like a piece of crap. I hate that I have to live with this and ask God for forgiveness, and I hate myself every single day,” Guyger said through tears. “I wish [Jean] was the one with the gun who had killed me.”
Jean was in his own apartment on the fourth floor of the building last year when Guyger entered, saying she thought it was her own apartment on the third floor.
She testified that she believed there was an intruder in her apartment and that she “intended” to kill Jean because she believed him to be a “threat” to her life.
Guyger was charged with murder and fired from the Dallas police department shortly after the shooting.
Judge Kemp ruled on Friday that the jury could consider the Castle Doctrine in their deliberations. The Castle Doctrine is similar to the Stand Your Ground Law, which allows a person to use deadly force in order to protect their own home, car, or other property from anyone who attempts to forcibly enter it.
Kemp also permitted jurors to consider the lesser charge of manslaughter.
During deliberations, the jury reportedly asked questions about the definitions of manslaughter and the Castle Doctrine, leading to speculations that they were considering convicting Guyger of a lesser charge.
Prosecutors argued that Jean was sitting on his couch, eating ice cream and watching TV when Guyger entered his apartment, and that he was never a threat to her. They said that Guyger abandoned her police training by confronting an apparent intruder by herself instead of taking cover and calling for backup.
Prosecutors also pointed out that Guyger did not make adequate attempts to save Jean’s life after shooting him, including failing to perform CPR on him or using her first-aid kit.
“It didn’t cross my mind,” Guyger responded to the prosecutor asking why she didn’t use the gauze she had in her backpack lying next to her to stem Jean’s bleeding wound.
Prosecutors said it was unreasonable for a trained, five-year veteran of the police to enter the wrong apartment and shoot an unarmed man — who was not a threat to anyone — in the chest.
It is “unreasonable she could do something like that and just say ‘whoops, my bad,’ and go about her life,” Dallas County prosecutor Jason Hermus said in his closing arguments Monday, mocking Guyger’s claims that she shot Jean in self-defense.
“Self-defense is an option of last resort,” Hermus said. “She killed him unreasonably and unjustifiably.”
Prosecutors also delved into Guyger’s affair with her married police partner, Martin Rivera, citing the sexts they exchanged as a reason for her distraction the night of the shooting.
Guyger was on the phone with Rivera when she parked on the wrong floor of the South Side Flats complex after returning home from her 13-hour shift.
Both Guyger and Rivera testified that they had ended their physical relationship earlier that year, but had continued to send each other messages and nude photos.
Guyger testified that when she tried to enter what she thought was her apartment, she saw the door was cracked open and could hear someone inside. Evidence showed that Jean’s door was defective and had not fully closed after he had returned home from running errands that night. When Guyger put her key in the lock, she said it pushed the door open.
She said that when she saw a “silhouette figure” standing somewhere inside the apartment, she pulled out her service weapon.
“I was scared to death,” Guyger told the court Friday. “Your heart rate just skyrockets.”
According to Guyger’s testimony, she shouted, “Let me see your hands! Let me see your hands!” However, prosecutors have cast doubt on whether she gave those commands, citing witnesses close by who did not hear her.
Guyger testified that she saw the figure “advance” toward her and say “Hey, hey, hey” in an “aggressive voice.”
“I thought he was going to kill me because I couldn’t see his hands,” she said
That’s when she shot him twice, she said.
When asked by prosecutors if she “intended to kill” Jean when she pulled the trigger, Guyger said, “I did.”
Guyger then called 911, repeatedly telling the dispatcher, “I thought it was my apartment.”
Prosecutors argued that Jean was still sitting on his couch when Guyger shot him, while her defense lawyers said he was walking or lunging toward her.
Guyger’s lawyers argued she made a “reasonable mistake” when she parked on the wrong floor and entered the wrong apartment. They called other South Side Flats tenants to testify that it was a common mistake.
However, the prosecution countered that Guyger, who was trained to be observant and aware as a police officer, missed several obvious clues that she was on the wrong floor, including a skylight, a neighbor's decorative planter, and differences in the parking garages as well as the hallways.
They argued that it was "unreasonable" for her not to have noticed the wrong apartment number, the red doormat outside Jean's apartment that she didn't have, the furniture differences, and the fact that the electronic key fob blinked red instead of green when she inserted her key.
Her lawyers said that Guyger was not thinking like a police officer responding to a burglary call, but that she was “just trying to go to her apartment” after work.
Guyger did not commit murder, her lawyers said, but simply made a “series of horrible mistakes” that ended in a “horrible, horrible tragedy.”
“Amber Guyger firmly and reasonably believed that she was in her own apartment and reasonably believed she was facing an intruder,” her lawyers said.