Did The Guyger Jury Get It Right?

Did The Guyger Jury Get It Right?

Did The Guyger Jury Get It Right?

One year ago, Amber Guyger walked into a Dallas apartment and killed a man. Under most circumstances, there might have been a story in the second section of the Dallas Morning News and possibly a passing mention of it nationwide as part of the gun control debate. What made this case different is the fact Guyger was a member of the Dallas Police Department at the time. She claimed she believed she’d entered her own apartment and the victim, Botham Jean, had broken in. Yesterday, a Dallas County jury found Guyger guilty of murder and now the armchair quarterbacking begins.

What happened?

On September 6, 2018, Amber Guyger returned to the apartment complex where she lived. She’d just come off a long shift. She rode the elevator up to what she claimed she believed was her own floor in the complex. A few moments later, she entered an apartment and saw a man inside. She pulled her gun, told him to put his hands up. According to her, he failed to do so and she fired, killing 28-year-old Bothan Jean.

That shot set the city on edge as everyone waited to see what would happen next.

The reason?

Guyger had not entered her apartment. Instead, she entered Jean’s apartment and killed a young man who was devoted to his faith and his community. It was a story no one wanted to read: white cop shoots innocent black man. It was also one we have seen all too often. But was this one different?

The investigation:

DPD acted quickly. Not just in their response to Guyger’s call that she’d shot someone, but in the way the investigation was handled. The Texas Rangers were called in to take charge. DPD took a backseat. As it should have in such a consideration.

Amid the protests and debates between the candidates running for District Attorney about what should happen to Guyger, the Rangers continued their investigation. It didn’t take long before they presented their case to the DA’s Office. The case went to the grand jury and an indictment against Guyger for manslaughter was handed down.

And the political rhetoric increased as did the demands for justice for Jean.

Texas law:

In Texas, there are four basic crimes a person can be charged with when another person dies.

Capital murder is the most serious and can be charged if when the victim is a member of law enforcement or a firefighter. It also occurs if the victim is killed during the course of committing certain felonies (like kidnapping or arson) or if done for remuneration.

Murder is the next “level”. A person commits murder, a first degree felony, if he

(1) intentionally or knowingly causes the death of an individual;

(2) intends to cause serious bodily injury and commits an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual; or

(3) commits or attempts to commit a felony, other than manslaughter, and in the course of and in furtherance of the commission or attempt, or in immediate flight from the commission or attempt, he commits or attempts to commit an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual.”

Manslaughter is a second degree felony. A person is guilty of this offense if he “recklessly” uses the death of another person.

Criminally negligent homicide is the least serious offense and doesn’t really come into play under the facts of the case.

Appropriate charge?

That was the question from the very beginning. There has never been any real debate within the legal community, or the Dallas community-at-large, that Guyger should have been charged with something. She clearly was in the wrong. She did enter Jean’s apartment and she did pull her gun and shoot him. But what crime should she have been charged with?

At the time the Rangers presented their evidence to the DA’s Office and it, in turn, presented it to the grand jury, Guyger was indicted for manslaughter. As the public, but not the jury, learned during the trial, this is because the Rangers did not believe there was adequate evidence to show Guyger had the requisite intent to prove murder.

That became a major point in the DA’s race, with former judge John Creuzot campaigning on a platform that including re-indicting Guyger on the higher charge of murder. Creuzot won and he followed through with his promise.

The trial and verdict:

In a trial that didn’t take as long as predicted and after only five hours of deliberation, the jury found Amber Guyger guilty of murder. The sentencing phase continues today. But once the sentence, which can be as little as five years to as many as 99 years in prison, is handed down, the appeals process will begin. And there appears to be more than enough for the appellate court to seriously consider reversing the verdict.

Possible appeals points will most likely include the failure of the judge in the trial to grant the defense’s motion for a change of venue. The prosecution did a good job of building a record during voir dire that the jury pool had not been polluted by pre-trial publicity. However, there is no denying the amount of media coverage the events leading up to the trial garnered. Nor is there any denying that much of the media coverage was slanted against Guyger. . .in other words, there was no presumption of innocence in much of the coverage.

Then there is the fact that John Creuzot, the elected DA and former judge, violated the gag order before the trial began. The defense asked for a mistrial and the judge denied the request. But she could not hide her reaction when she learned of the possibility the DA had spoken to the media about the trial, in clear violation of her orders.

Then there was the testimony from Sgt. David Armstrong, one of the Texas Rangers who investigated Jean’s death. According to Armstrong, “I don’t believe that (the shooting) was reckless or criminally negligent based on the totality of the investigation and the circumstances and facts.” However, the jury never heard this testimony because Judge Kemp ruled to keep it out. Should the jury not have been given the chance to hear it and weigh it against the rest of the evidence? That will be a question Guyger’s attorneys should be up on appeal.

The one question I have for the defense team is not why they put Guyger on the stand. They had to. It is why she wasn’t prepared better for her testimony. Until the State began its cross-examination, there was little to no evidence of intent. With this one simple exchange, she gave the jury enough to find her guilty of the charged offense:

When you aimed and pulled the trigger at Mr. Jean — shooting him in center mass right where you are trained — you intended to kill Mr. Jean?” he asked.

“I did,” she said.

From that point on, it didn’t matter that she testified she was scared. It didn’t matter that she thought she was in her own apartment. She gave them someone to blame in this tragedy and we always want to blame someone when another person dies unnecessarily. Add to that she could have withdrawn prior to shooting Jean and called for backup and didn’t and, well, her testimony worked against her.

But will it be enough to uphold the verdict on appeal?

Aftermath:

No one can fault Jean’s family for feeling relief and even a sense of joy at the verdict. But there is also no denying the case has been political from the very beginning. From the shouts of “Black lives matter” in the corridor outside the courtroom after the verdict was read back to Creuzot campaign platform, Jean’s death became more about the politics of the situation than the man whose life was lost.

Even now, the media is playing this up for all its worth. The Dallas paper ran an editorial shortly after the verdict was announced, proclaiming how this signals a “shift” in how juries view police officers. The problem is this case is no longer an anomaly, at least not in Dallas. The previous District Attorneys and juries haven’t hesitated over recent years to charge and convict police officers for wrongdoing. But we aren’t hearing about that in the face of the Guyger trial.

This case isn’t going away any time soon, no matter what sentence the jury hands down. Guyger will appeal and she should. Not because she was found guilty, but because the case appears to have too many errors to ignore.

Should Guyger have been convicted? Yes. She killed an unarmed man. But is she guilty of murder as defined by Texas statute? That’s trickier. I’m still not convinced. I do believe she acted not only recklessly but foolishly. I’m also not sure someone else in her shoes wouldn’t have done the same thing. That is why I think the jury should have heard all the testimony and been able to form their own opinions based on it.

In the end, it will be up to the appellate courts and possibly a new trial. If that is the case, the only victims will be the Jean family and Dallas County taxpayers. Now we can only wait and see. Will the verdict and punishment stand? If not, will the DA’s Office offer Guyger a plea or will they take her to trial again? Or will they simply hope the public has forgotten about the trial and let it slip into nothingness, never refiling charges and thus making Botham Jean’s death an even bigger tragedy than it already is?

Update:

The jury returned a sentence of 10 years in prison after deliberating only a few hours today. She could have been sentenced between five and 99 years.

Featured image: Officer Amber Guyger booking photo provided by Kaufman County Sheriff”s Office [Handout/Kaufman County Sheriff”s Office] November 2018.

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15 Comments
  • GWB says:

    “I don’t believe that (the shooting) was reckless or criminally negligent based on the totality of the investigation and the circumstances and facts.”
    Wow, that’s pretty unbelievable. If there’s anything shown by the evidence it’s that the shooting was at least reckless and criminally negligent. The question is whether she was consciously committing a crime when she shot the guy. (That would be the difference between “murder” and “manslaughter” as you describe it.)

    “I did,”
    If she intended to kill the person, then she undermined any possible self-defense angle.
    Go to Branca or the guys at any of the well-known self-defense academies and they will, to a person, tell you that you never shoot to kill, you shoot to stop. If you express the desire to kill it will be turned by the prosecution into “see, they had a criminal mindset from the beginning, they had animus against poor, defenseless Charlie, and they shot him DEAD because they wanted to.” And, even in situations where the deceased was clearly the aggressor and clearly intent on gravely harming the defendant, that has turned the tide with jurors.

    “I kept shooting and reloaded and shot some more because he was still twitching and I still was afraid he’d get up and hurt me” is a MUCH better (though still risky) answer than “I shot him until he was dead.”
    (And you would think a cop would know that!)

    She gave them someone to blame
    Well, she certainly IS to blame for Jean’s death. There should be no doubt whatsoever about that. The question is to what degree: manslaughter or murder.

    But we aren’t hearing about that in the face of the Guyger trial.
    Of course not. It doesn’t support The Narrative.

    I’m also not sure someone else in her shoes wouldn’t have done the same thing.
    Sorry, no. She was on the wrong floor in her building. Most sane people would have caught themselves at “Hey, that’s a strange dude, and this doesn’t look like my apartment” and backed up and checked the number over the door. Not whipped out their service pistol and blasted away as the guy was on the couch watching tv.

    Oh, a quote from the defense attorney:
    And she reacts like any police officer would, who has a gun with confronting a burglary suspect.
    Sorry, but HELL NO. Any police officer would confront the burglary suspect verbally before firing their weapon, at minimum, and likely would back up into a lit area or draw and turn on her flashlight to identify her target before squeezing the trigger. No, I don’t think “in her shoes” works here.
    (BTW, this is wholly different from a situation of being in your home and you hear noises and go to defend your home.)

    Also, according to one article, manslaughter was a lesser included charge. The jury rejected it.
    That is going to be REAL HARD to beat on appeal, assuming the judge didn’t misinform the jury of the law on those two bits.

    Perhaps she shouldn’t have been convicted of murder. She certainly should have been convicted of manslaughter. If the sentence she receives doesn’t exceed the maximum for manslaughter, then I don’t see how justice is not served. (BTW, imo, what she did is worse than manslaughter, though not murder in the first degree. A little surprised Texas doesn’t have degrees of murder – this would be 2d degree murder in a lot of other jurisdictions, based on her “I did” statement.)

    I think this is an excellent post. I just disagree on some points.

    • GWB says:

      If the sentence she receives doesn’t exceed the maximum for manslaughter, then I don’t see how justice is not served.
      Well, they gave her 10 years – mid-range for manslaughter – so I think justice is done here.

  • Kristian says:

    I have mixed feelings. If a non cop had done that, would they be treated better or worse than the cop in this case? Gut feeling, worse by the system, better by the media. Or not, a random white person in Texas wandering in to another Back person’s hoMe and killing them because they are afraid?

    Also wouldn’t felony murder apply due to death in a felony home invasuon (you know, how accomplices get the death penalty in Texas for actions others did?)

    This is just a mess. I can accept that she didn’t plan to do it. And I can also accept that the militarization of police in training and culture could lead her to escalate to deadly force unreasonably quickly.

    Just take I wasn’t on the jury.

    They say murder laws work often eludes me, but I can’t see why this

    • GWB says:

      in a felony home invasuon
      No, this wasn’t a felony home invasion. She would have had to bust down the door (violent entry) or illegally entered in order to commit a crime to be a felony home invasion (the normal charge would be breaking and entering, really; she would have to know the other person is likely to be there for it to be a “home invasion”).
      So, felony murder doesn’t apply.

  • Suppose Jean had been armed and shot and killed Guyger. Would that be justifiable homicide? I think so (I can’t imagine why not). (And this would have been a much better outcome.)

    And GWB’s comments about rules pertaining to both civilian and law enforcement use of deadly force are exactly right (confirmed to me by a former law enforcement weapons instructor who designed policy guidelines distributed at the state level).

    The procedural errors are problematic, but I see no reason to second guess the jury.

  • Pauly says:

    I don’t believe that (the shooting) was reckless or criminally negligent based on the totality of the investigation and the circumstances and facts.” However, the jury never heard this testimony because Judge Kemp ruled to keep it out

    The Texas Ranger is an investigator into the facts, not an expert witness on legal interpretation. It is up to the lawyers involved in the trial to argue the points of law. The judge was right not to allow the Texas Ranger’s testimony as to what he or she speculates is the correct legal interpretation of the facts.
    Having said that the defense lawyers really should have been able to lead him to give answers as to the elements necessary for a manslaughter charge. As people above have said it’s like the admission of shooting to kill. It’s a sign of a poor defense attorney.

  • talgus says:

    the important item that I got was the jury tossed the “I thought I was going into my apartment”. without that, It devolves into a race thing. Of course, that is what the chanters and race baiters want. they are screaming for 28 years. I suggest they try 10 years and see how they like it.

    • Pauly says:

      Well, apparently she said she had worked 40 hours in 4 days and as a result was overtired. For anyone who doesn’t work a government job 40 hours in 4 days is a pretty reasonable work load, and for a small business owner downright cushy.

      If that was the line the defense pushed to the jury, I can see why the jury would treat her exculpatory claims with a big dose of skepticism.

  • Matthew W says:

    This was a gross overcharge that resulted from the “need” to placate the race baiting mobs.

    • GWB says:

      Perhaps an overcharge.
      BUT, because manslaughter was a lesser included charge, the jury could have convicted of that without causing chaos, if they had seen the facts that way. They decided on murder – with a 10yr sentence.

  • Mark Matis says:

    The REAL shame is that she only got 10 years for this cold blooded murder. But at least that’s better than what Deputy Richard Sylvester got for murdering Andrew Lee Scott in cold blood in his own home. The fine deputy was never even charged! Of course, Mr. Scott was white, so his murder doesn’t count.

  • Steve57 says:

    I don’t want to give anybody the impression that I don’t take it seriously a man is dead. But I can also find it in me to think it could have been a horrible accident.

    I am so grateful I wasn’t on that jury.

  • Alain says:

    She pulled out her gun, aimed, and fired. To me that meets the intent part intentionally or knowingly causes the death of an individual. If I was on the Grand Jury, I served 4 months on a Grand Jury in Houston, I would have pushed to have the charge elevated from manslaughter to murder.

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