Former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was found guilty Tuesday of the murder of Botham Jean, a 26-year-old black man she shot in his own apartment last year.
Guyger, 31, who had pleaded not guilty, could now face life in prison.
The then-officer shot Jean, an accountant, in his Dallas apartment on Sept. 6, 2018. He had been sitting on his couch watching TV and eating ice cream when she showed up. She said in her initial statements that she had mistaken him as an intruder in her own apartment, which was one floor below his.
According to her arrest warrant, she was able to enter the apartment because the door had been left slightly ajar. Guyger, who was wearing her uniform during the incident, told investigators she fired at him twice after he ignored her commands. She said she then called 911.
Guyger was fired from the Dallas Police Department later that month and was indicted on a murder charge about two months later.
Jean’s family members hugged each other and cried in the courtroom after Judge Tammy Kemp handed down the verdict, local media reported.
Ben Crump, an attorney for the family, said in a statement that the jury’s decision “sets a powerful precedent for future cases.”
“Nothing will bring Botham back but today his family has found some measure of justice,” he said. “What happened on September 6, 2018, is clear to everyone: This officer saw a black man and shot, without reason and without justification.”
“The jury’s thoughtful verdict sets a powerful precedent for future cases, telling law enforcement officers that they cannot hide behind the badge but instead will face justice for their wrongful actions,” he added.
The high-profile case generated mass outrage, with protesters in Dallas holding up Guyger, who is white, as another example of a police officer using outsize violence against black people.
Guyger’s defense team argued on the first day of her trial, Sept. 23, that their client feared her life was in danger and “acted as any police officer would.” They also noted that the building had a confusing floor plan and that other residents reported instances of going to the wrong apartments.
Later, Guyger gave a gut-wrenching testimony in which she said she wished Jean had killed her instead.
“I feel like a terrible person. I feel like a piece of crap,” she told the courtroom through sobs. “I hate that I have to live with this every single day of my life. And I ask God for forgiveness, and I hate myself every single day. I feel like I don’t deserve a chance to be with my family and friends. And I wish he was the one with the gun who killed me.”
She also asked the court to believe that her actions had nothing to do with Jean’s race.
“I was scared this person inside my apartment was going to hurt me,” she said, later adding, “This is not about hate, it’s about being scared that night.”
The 12-member jury began deliberating Monday afternoon and presented the judge with a verdict Tuesday morning.
Guyger’s attorneys had encouraged jurors to consider the “castle doctrine,” a legal protection similar to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which gives a person immunity if they use deadly force while defending themselves.
But prosecutors pushed back on that defense, arguing that she should have noticed several clues that she was at the wrong apartment. For one, Jean had a doormat, they noted, while she did not. Jean’s apartment also didn’t have the large entryway table that hers did.
“I mean, my God. This is crazy,” prosecutor Jason Fine said in court, listing several other visual cues Guyger missed. “It was unreasonable ― she should’ve known she was in the wrong apartment.”
These were not reasonable mistakes, he added.
“Nobody had to die,” Fine said. “She caused his death. She acted unreasonably.”