On September 6, 2018, 26-year-old accountant Botham Jean was fatally shot when an off-duty police officer entered his home. She believed that he was a burglar in her home and killed him.
The killer, Amber Guyger, was not arrested for several days, and initially she was charged only with manslaughter. Rightfully, there was outrage as yet another unarmed Black citizen was murdered at the hands a police officer who was given a weak punishment.
Guyger was eventually charged with murder, and was given a 10 year prison sentence for the crime on October 2, 2019.
Botham Jean was born in Saint Lucia and had graduated from Harding University to become an accountant. He was 26 years old at the time of his death. Amber Guyger was 30 years old and had been on the Dallas police force for about 5 years.
Botham and Guyger lived in the same apartment complex, one floor apart. On the evening of September 6, 2018, Guyger was getting off of a 13.5 hour shift, and Botham was eating ice cream on his couch. When Guyger arrived home, apparently in a tired stupor, she thought that Botham's home was hers, though she was on the wrong floor.
She entered his home. A trained police officer, a woman who was put on the streets to protect the community, believed that the man sitting on his own couch enjoying a bowl of ice cream in his own living room was an intruder. An intruder whom she believed would kill her. And thus, she took her gun out and shot him. To her, a terrifying, violent intruder. In truth, an accountant enjoying a treat in his living room.
Guyger called 9-1-1, but it wasn't enough. He died at the hospital of his wound.
Just as a side note: She must have pulled her gun immediately. Botham's home was being broken into. He didn't even have time to say "hey, what are you doing?" There was no time for them to right the mistake. If she truly shot him because she mistakenly thought she was in her apartment, she would have had to shoot him before he was able to speak and ask what was going on. The speed at which she went from breaking into someone's home to murdering the violent ice-cream eating intruder is shocking.
It took 3 days for the Texas Rangers who were investigating the murder to arrest Guyger, the clear perpetrator of the crime. And even once she was arrested, she was charged only with manslaughter. In the wake of protests, and additional evidence, she was eventually charged with murder. She was fired from the police department on September 24, 2018 after weeks of administrative leave.
Guyger was indicted on murder charges in Dallas on November 30, 2018. The jury was sequestered for the duration of the trial.
While changing manslaughter charges to murder charges may seem like a step in the right direction, it can lead to some difficulties during the trial. The story Guyger told is that she, extremely tired from a long day at work, accidentally entered the wrong apartment and shot in fear. While still a terrible thing to do, do prove murder, intent must be proven. This puts the burden on the prosecution to convince the jury that she intended to kill Botham Jean that night.
The prosecutors argued intent could be proved based on 2 things. The first was that it was not her tiredness that caused the mistake. She had just had a conversation with her lover planning to arrange a meeting for later that night. If you're planning a night out, sure, you may be tired... but tired enough to enter the wrong home, not realize you've entered the wrong home once you walk inside, and to murder the person inside?
(Side note: the similar floor plans were mentioned in a few articles I read. Sorry, how stupid do you have to be to mistake someone else's apartment for yours based on which side the kitchenette is on? Your apartment is populated with your items! Your furniture! Getting off on the wrong floor, sure. Going to the wrong door, sure. Entering? Stretch, but okay. Continuing to believe you're in the right place once you have entered and seen someone else's things? NOPE.)
Secondly, they argued that she did not follow standard protocol of not entering a building with a potential burglar inside. If she genuinely thought the man eating a cold treat on his couch was a threat to her, she should have left. Called for backup. To enter, allegedly so tired that she can't even think straight, and murder the person inside, suggests that perhaps that was her goal.
On October 1, 2019, a jury found Guyger guilty of murder. The jury deliberated for 6 hours before coming to their verdict. They had considered the lesser charge of manslaughter, but were convinced that murder was the correct conviction. The following day, the jury deliberated for 1 hour before sentencing her to 10 years in prison.
During the sentencing, Botham's mother provided testimony, and spoke of some of Guyger's text messages and social media posts that spoke to her racism. Botham's younger brother, a Christian, forgave and hugged his brother's killer during the sentencing. Botham's father also said he forgave Guyger, but had hoped for a stiffer sentencing. The judge gave Guyger her Bible before she went off to prison.
The entire sentencing was pretty controversial. Of course, I will not tell a family how to grieve, and as a white person, I will not tell a Black family how to manage the emotions that come with this sort of traumatic event. But speaking observationally, many people were surprised and outspoken about the reactions from the family and the judge, specifically focused around the positive, kind treatment of the killer. This is not to say judges shouldn't be kind to their defendants, or families shouldn't forgive their loved one's killer... but the obvious question was top of mind. Would this kindness, across the board, be extended if the perpetrator was a Black man, and the victim was a white woman?
More than likely... no. If the judge in a trial for a Black man murdering a white woman kindly handed the killer a Bible while hugging him, there would be outrage. The judge would be accused of caring more about the feelings of the killer than the victim. But in this case, because the killer was a white woman, it was a "beautiful moment". I can't imagine a situation where the family of a white woman murdered by a Black man would embrace the person who killed their loved one. It was a sentencing hearing full of "beautiful moments", but were they? Or was it just another example of white privilege, especially in our justice system?
I even shudder to think of if it happened exactly the opposite way. When Amber Guyger entered his home, if Botham had shot the intruder. In that case, he would absolutely be in the right. No mistake was made. Someone entered his home, he would have every right to shoot. Would people be quick to say Botham just made a mistake, a quick judgement in fear? Would they understand Guyger was an intruder, committing a crime? Or would they say "she just accidentally entered the wrong apartment, and now she's dead", making Botham out to be the bad guy? Would it always come down to sympathizing with Guyger for her mistake?
In a weird twist of events, a key witness in Guyger's murder trial, Joshua Brown, who had lived across the hall from Botham at the time of his death, was shot to death in 2019. However, it was determined that his murder was not in connection to the case, and since, 3 men have been indicted for trying to rob him.
As of 2020, Guyger's defense team continues to argue that there was not enough evidence to convict her of murder. Recently, she and her team has filed an appeal to reverse her conviction. They believe she should be convicted of criminally negligent homicide, or she should receive an entirely new trial.
"Her mistaken belief negated the culpability for murder because although she intentionally and knowingly caused Jean's death, she had the right to act in deadly force in self-defense since her belief that deadly force was immediately necessary was reasonable under the circumstances," her lawyers said. Again, its a fat no from me. Being tired and genuinely unthinkably stupid is not a defense against murder. (Again, really? She didn't realize the couch wasn't hers?)
"After admitting her crime and asking Botham Jean's family for mercy, Guyger's actions in filing this appeal reflect someone who is not repentant but instead was hoping to play on the families sympathies at the time that they were most vulnerable," Botham's family's statement said of the appeal, and I couldn't agree more. If she was genuinely sorry, she would serve her time. To appeal and try to get out of her conviction makes it seem like she isn't actually remorseful for what she did.
To me, this case is one of the saddest, and most egregious examples of the implicit biases we (white people) hold against people of color, especially Black people. It has been shown time and time again that we see Black people as more dangerous or violent. When Black men and white men are shown to us, the same height, weight, and general build, we see Black men as larger, and thus more threatening. We are more likely to call a Black teen a "man", and a white teen a "kid". Our implicit biases convince us that, even if we don't consciously believe we treat Black and white people differently, that specifically Black men are immediately seen as larger, older, and more threatening than their white counterparts. This is dangerous when you're armed with a gun.
Sitting on your couch, watching TV, and eating ice cream is probably one of the least threatening positions any human being can be in. And entering the wrong apartment, and being so sure that an apartment that vaguely looks like yours but with another human being in it and different furniture and decorations is yours is so unthinkably moronic. And yet, Botham Jean is dead. And Amber Guyger's mistake was "understandable". She walked into a man's home and murdered him. And her sentence and her guilt is a point of contention. Because whether its admitted or not, a small white woman entering an apartment to find a large Black man is worthy of using deadly force. What should have been a laughable mistake, a "wow, this has been a long day, have a good night" conversation between neighbors turned to murder. Because Botham Jean was a threat. "When the color of your skin is seen as a threat, you cannot be unarmed."
We've all gone to the wrong car in the grocery store parking lot before, right? The unlock button doesn't work and you're made aware of your mistake, or God forbid, you get in the driver's seat. You immediately notice you're in the wrong place. Have you ever gone to the wrong place and been so confident that you'd murder the person in the right place? Ever? It is unheard of.
Botham Jean was a victim of implicit biases against people of color. And even though Amber Guyger wasn't acting as an officer of the law, it is terrifying to know that someone like her was hired to protect the people of Dallas. If she was that quick to fire her weapon on a man eating on his couch, how quickly would she draw her weapon at a Black man in a criminal situation? Would she become agitated if a Black man during a traffic stop told her he had a concealed carry? Would she mistake a child with a toy gun as a violent adult with murderous intentions? How many people on our country's police forces are that quick to convince themselves that Black men are threats, and should be treated as such? It isn't that we just keep getting lucky by catching the offenders of racism in our law enforcement agencies, it is that there are so many, it is natural we'd find at least some.
The world has now gone 2 years without Botham Jean, a beloved son, brother, and friend. He died senselessly, for no reason other than a woman's stupidity and the color of his skin. To go from a peaceful night in to dead in a second, with no time to explain yourself, is horrifying. This case is absolutely heartbreaking in every single way.
I truly hope Amber Guyger's appeal is denied, and I wish her sentence was longer than 10 years. I hope she never holds another position where she's given a gun after her release, and I hope that her prison sentence rehabilitates her into a better human being. Because if she's going to be out in a mere 10 years, we can only hope she isn't the same person she is when she went in.
Rest in power, Botham Jean.