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(WASHINGTON EXAMINER) — After less than 24 hours of deliberation, a Texas jury has spoken — its verdict stunning the senses.
Former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger has been found guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Botham Jean. Both Guyger, 31, and Jean, 26, resided in the same apartment complex. When Guyger, still in uniform, returned home after completing her shift on Sept. 6, 2018, she mistakenly exited onto the wrong floor and found what she thought was her own apartment door ajar.
Jean was in his apartment watching football. When he rose from the couch and confronted Guyger, she later testified that she had her service weapon already drawn and shouted commands for him to show her his hands. Guyger thought Jean was an intruder and fired several rounds into the man whose apartment she had actually entered as an unintended intruder herself.
Much was made at the trial about how Guyger reacted in the immediate aftermath of her shooting of Jean, who was by all accounts a kind and affable immigrant from Saint Lucia. Appropriately dialing 911 and requesting medical assistance, she then wasted precious minutes before administering potentially lifesaving CPR and first aid, which she abandoned while directing additional first responders to the scene.
She was admittedly tired following an extended tour but was also distracted, communicating via flirty text messages with her married partner with whom she once had an affair. She missed some fairly obvious signs in the process, such as Jean’s hard-to-miss red welcome mat. In the dimly lit apartment where she mistook Jean for an intruder, Guyger also failed to handle the encounter in the manner that her department training and experiences as a cop should have had her conditioned. She entered the apartment solo, failing to call for backup: an ill-advised tactic if her senses instructed her that a criminal, or criminals, were inside.
These things are easily disassembled and second-guessed. Hindsight is always 20/20. But the prosecution’s decision to charge her with first-degree murder was viewed by numerous legal experts as an overcharging error. When Guyger took the stand in her own defense, many felt she cut a compellingly sympathetic figure.
Murder charges require malice as a condition. It’s difficult to sense malice in this case, though her arguably conscious disregard for human life seemed to have met the conditions for a lesser manslaughter charge.
Prior to deliberations, the jury was instructed to consider the lesser charge of manslaughter if it decided Guyger was not guilty of murder. This appeared to be a sensible off-ramp for a deliberative body that very well could have acquitted or found itself knotted in a hung jury.
But none of that mattered. Surprisingly, following a fairly speedy deliberation the Dallas jury found her guilty of murder. Following sentencing, Guyger could spend the rest of her life behind bars. Her attorneys will certainly appeal the verdict. But for now, Guyger is a convicted felon awaiting sentencing for first-degree murder.
It is worth noting the composition of Guyger’s jury. Not because demographics insinuate unfairness in the vast majority of jury determinations, but juries are comprised of fallible human beings who earnestly strive to be impartial and unbiased while applying the law to a provided set of facts in evidence. Jean’s family has retained S. Lee Merritt to represent them in the expected civil case. He tweeted the racial composition of the jury immediately after selection: “We are all relieved that the jury hearing the #AmberGuyger case reflects the diversity of Dallas County where the crime took place. From my estimation 5 blacks, 5 Hispanic/Asian, 2 white (2 black & 2 white alternatives).”
Jurors intrinsically bring their own life experiences into a deliberation. There is no denying that the past few years have highlighted heretofore unseen levels of animus toward police. Certain false narratives and tropes abound, often accepted as fact. Anti-cop rhetoric, verbal baiting of officers, and even brazen water-dousing of cops in several big cities have conditioned many in this country to reflexively distrust and despise the police.
Guyger was a white police officer. Jean was a black man. An acquittal would have assuredly resulted in protests and possibly violence. There would have been an outcry that anything less than a conviction for murder in the first-degree would be yet another example of privilege and further instances of the imbalance inherent in the system of justice.
I can’t help but feel that in this instance, Guyger’s chosen profession doomed her at trial. She made a horrible, incomprehensible, unfathomable mistake. An innocent man paid with his life. But the case of Jean’s death was ultimately a mistake, one that someone of a different skin hue or serving in a different profession may very well have been forgiven.
The jury has spoken. But they got this one wrong.
James A. Gagliano (@JamesAGagliano) worked in the FBI for 25 years. He is a law enforcement analyst for CNN and an adjunct assistant professor in homeland security and criminal justice at St. John’s University.
(Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the management of St. Lucia News Online)