Former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was found guilty Tuesday of murdering her neighbor Botham Jean, a 26-year-old accountant. Guyger, 31, told a Texas jury last week in emotional testimony that she shot Jean, who was sitting on his couch watching television, after she accidentally entered his apartment after mistaking it for her own. Believing Jean, who is black, to be an intruder in her home, she drew her service weapon and fired twice.
Guyger lived in the apartment directly below Jean’s. She was fired from the Dallas Police Department and charged with murder after the incident.
Guyger’s legal team controversially enlisted Texas’s “castle doctrine” in her defense, a stand-your-ground statute that posits that a person has the right to use lethal force to defend themselves in their home. When Judge Tammy Kemp ruled Monday that the jury could consider this defense — despite the fact that Guyger was not in fact in her own home — it caused outrage at the idea that a white police officer might be able to claim self-defense after illegally trespassing in the home of an innocent black man.
The narrative surrounding Jean’s murder raised parallels to America’s long history of white women’s prejudicial fear of black men being used to justify horrific racist violence. People also felt that were Guyger to escape charges, it would help cement a dangerous standard of perceived police invincibility.
“[The castle doctrine] protects homeowners against intruders,” prosecutor Jason Fine told the jury in the Guyger case. “Now all of a sudden the intruder is trying to use it against the homeowner.”
The Black Lives Matter movement and anti-police brutality activists additionally pointed out how facile the stand-your-ground argument was in Guyger’s case. The principle was first widely introduced when George Zimmerman was acquitted of the 2012 murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida.
“Let’s be clear: Amber Guyger could not ‘stand her ground’ in a house that wasn’t hers,” tweeted Brittany Packnett, an activist who rose to prominence during the 2014 protests over the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed black 18-year-old who was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. “The house belonged to [Jean]. Very few officers are convicted for killing black people. This is accountability. Justice means [Jean] would still be alive.” CNN reported that “there was applause and cheers outside the courtroom after the jury left.”
Kemp had previously allowed the jury to potentially convict Guyger of the lesser charge of manslaughter, which has a maximum of 20 years. Instead, the panel convicted her of murder, which carries a possible life sentence. A CBS News reporter tweeted that there was “audible sobbing heard in court” after the verdict was announced.