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Former Officer Convicted of Murder, Sentenced to 10 Years in Killing of Botham Jean

Policeman's hand on gun
By Christopher Coble, Esq. on October 04, 2019 11:52 AM

In September of last year, then-off-duty Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger shot Botham Jean to death in his apartment. Guyger claimed she entered the wrong apartment, thinking it was hers, and mistook Jean for a burglar.

Guyger was charged with manslaughter in Jean's death, but a grand jury indicted her for murder. And this week, she was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Here's a look at the conviction, and the controversial role, or lack thereof, of the "castle doctrine."

Crime and Punishment

Guyger contended she was exhausted after a long day of work, which caused her to miss several signals she was about to go into the wrong apartment — the wrong floor, a bright red doormat — before shooting Jean, who had been eating ice cream on his couch at the time. "I was scared whoever was inside my apartment was going to kill me," she told the jury. "No police officer would want to hurt an innocent person."

Prosecutors countered that Guyger had a 16-minute phone conversation with a fellow officer with whom she was having a romantic relationship and swapped sexually explicit messages, arguing she was too preoccupied with those communications to realize she was heading toward the wrong apartment. They also highlighted Guyger's training as a police officer, which would have directed her to back away from the door, hide, and call for backup if she had suspected an intruder. Guyger, still in uniform with her police radio, admitted that, had she done that, Jean might be alive today.

It took the jury five hours to convict Guyger of murder, surpassing the lesser charge of manslaughter. However, while she faced life in prison and prosecutors asked for a 28-year sentence, the jury settled on 10 years behind bars, making Guyger eligible for parole in five.

Castles and Doctrines

The judge in the case determined that jurors could consider the "castle doctrine" during their deliberations. The legal theory refers to the right to defend one's self in their own home, and Guyger's attorneys argued the defense applied in this case because she believed she was in her own apartment.

Prosecutor Jason Fine argued it couldn't possibly apply to Guyger during his closing arguments. "Who does castle doctrine protect? Homeowners," Fine said, contending it would have applied to Jean, but he was unarmed and there is no evidence he tried to defend himself. "It protects homeowners against intruders, and now, all of a sudden, the intruder is trying to use it against the homeowner. What are we doing?" Fine asked.

Ultimately, the jury rejected that argument, along with a "sudden passion" defense that could have reduced her punishment. The conviction and sentence hint at a possible turn in legal precedent with more officers being found criminally liable for shooting unarmed civilians.

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