Botham Jean’s mother, Allison Jean, rejoices in the courtroom after fired Dallas police Officer Amber Guyger was found guilty of murder on Oct. 1, 2019, in Dallas. (Tom Fox / The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool)
Guyger was off-duty but in uniform when she shot Jean last year in a case that has become a flashpoint in Dallas over issues of police use of force and racial bias.
By Erik Ortiz
Former Dallas police Officer Amber Guyger was found guilty of murder on Tuesday for fatally shooting her neighbor, Botham Jean, after thinking he was an intruder when she mistakenly entered his apartment.
Guyger, who has been out on a $300,000 bond, faces a maximum of life in prison. She was not immediately taken into custody and the sentencing phase in her trial was set to begin later Tuesday afternoon.
There was an audible gasp in the packed courtroom as state District Judge Tammy Kemp read the jury’s decision, and Jean’s family later walked out crying and embracing, many wearing red — the victim’s favorite color.
The jury was tasked with deciding whether or not Guyger, 31, acted reasonably when she used deadly force, and if the prosecution had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that she intentionally killed Jean or if a lesser charge of manslaughter, which involves reckless conduct, was warranted.
Deliberations began Monday afternoon after a weeklong trial, which included the playing of the 911 call that Guyger made after shooting Jean and dramatic bodycam video from officers who responded to the scene.
Guyger was off-duty but in uniform when she shot twice at Jean on Sept. 6, 2018, just before 10 p.m., striking him in the chest. She had worked a 13-1/2-hour shift on the Dallas Police Department’s crime response team that day and parked on the fourth floor of the complex’s garage.
She lived on the third floor, and Jean, a 26-year-old accountant and native of the island nation of St. Lucia, lived directly above her. The two did not know each other.
The fatal shooting, which has led to one of the most anticipated murder trials in Dallas in decades, became a flashpoint on issues of police use of force and racial bias. Guyger is white and Jean was Black, and the Jean family has questioned whether Guyger would have shot him if he were a different race.
Lee Merritt, an attorney for the Jean family representing them in their civil case, applauded the verdict as a “huge victory” for them as well as “all Black people in America.”
“It’s a signal that the tide is going to change here,” Merritt told reporters outside the court. “Police officers are going to be held accountable for their actions, and we believe this is going to change the policing culture all over the world.”
Another family attorney, Benjamin Crump, added that Jean was the “perfect” victim — a young Black man who was college-educated and doing nothing but relaxing inside his home after work.
“It shouldn’t take all of that for unarmed black and brown people to get justice,” Crump said.
Prosecutors said Jean was watching television and eating a bowl of vanilla ice cream in his living room when Guyger burst inside, likely scaring him. Although Guyger said that she used her electronic key fob in the lock, the door pushed open, and she immediately drew her service weapon once inside.
Testifying in her own defense last week, Guyger tearfully told jurors that she was scared for her life when she entered an apartment that she thought was hers. She said she commanded, “Let me see your hands,” but the man inside began coming toward her and yelling, “Hey! Hey! Hey!”
The trajectory of the bullet showed that Jean was either getting up from his couch or cowering when Guyger fired at him, the prosecution said.
“I never wanted to take an innocent person’s life. I’m so sorry,” Guyger said on the stand. “This is not about hate — it’s about being scared.”
Guyger admitted to giving Jean minimal lifesaving aid because she had only one hand free while she called 911 and her state of mind was frantic.
Guyger, who was on the Dallas police force for more than four years, was fired from her job following the shooting. Toxicology results presented at trial showed she was not intoxicated during the shooting.
The defense brought on other tenants from the same apartment complex who testified that they had parked on a different floor and gone to the wrong unit by mistake.
Guyger’s attorneys also downplayed that she had been sharing sexually explicit text messages with her work partner and was on the phone with him just before the shooting, which was revealed in the opening of the trial.
Prosecutors used those messages to make the case that Guyger was not as fatigued that day as the defense had claimed, and that Guyger intended to see her partner later that night.
They also said Guyger was at fault for missing several clues that she was on the wrong floor and went to the wrong apartment, including a red doormat that Jean’s apartment had and hers did not.
The jury in Guyger’s trial was made up of mostly women and people of color.
Erik Ortiz is an NBC News staff writer focusing on racial injustice and social inequality.