By Krista T. Torralva
An appeals court upheld the murder conviction of Amber Guyger, the former Dallas police officer who fatally shot Botham Jean in his own apartment Sept. 6, 2018.
Since a jury convicted her in 2019, Guyger has argued that her mistaken belief that she was in her apartment negates her culpability for murder. She asked the Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas to overturn her murder conviction and instate a conviction of criminally negligent homicide. The lesser charge carries a maximum punishment of two years in prison.
Jurors sentenced her to 10 years in prison, a punishment she is currently serving.
Guyger testified at her trial that she believed she was entering her apartment on the third floor of the Southside Flats Apartments when she got home from work about 10 p.m. She actually was on the wrong floor and entered Jean’s apartment, which was directly above hers.
Jean had been eating ice cream on his couch when Guyger arrived still wearing her police uniform.
Guyger testified that she shot to kill Jean because she believed he was an intruder in her apartment. Her appeals lawyer, Michael Mowla, argued she had the right to use deadly force in self-defense.
Fifth District Court of Appeals Justices Lana Myers, Robbie Partida-Kipness and Chief Justice Robert D. Burns III disagreed that Guyger’s belief that deadly force was needed was reasonable. They explained their decision in a 23-page judgement issued Thursday.
The justices also did not agree that evidence supported a conviction of criminally negligent homicide rather than murder, and they pointed to Guyger’s own testimony that she intended to kill.
“That she was mistaken as to Jean’s status as a resident in his own apartment or a burglar in hers does not change her mental state from intentional or knowing to criminally negligent,” the judges wrote. “We decline to rely on Guyger’s misperception of the circumstances leading to her mistaken beliefs as a basis to reform the jury’s verdict in light of the direct evidence of her intent to kill.”
Guyger testified that she could have retreated from the apartment and called for backup police officers instead. The judges noted that another officer who testified, Michael Lee, said he would have taken a “position of cover” and used his police radio to call for help if he were in a similar situation. He also said he was trained to wait for more officers before entering premises during burglary calls.
The judges also referenced Lee’s testimony that he would focus on the suspect’s hands to see if they were holding a weapon. Jean was unarmed.
Guyger can now appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which is the state’s highest criminal court and is much more conservative than Dallas’ Fifth District Court of Appeals.