Judge in Amber Guyger Trial Just Made It Easier for the Former Dallas Cop to Be Acquitted of Murder

Judge Tammy Kemp meets with the attorneys at her bench upon their request during fired Dallas police officer Amber Guyger’s murder trial, Sept. 25, 2019, in Dallas.
Photo: Tom Fox (The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool)

Closing arguments wrapped up Monday in the trial of Amber Guyger, the former Dallas Police officer who fatally shot her black neighbor after walking into his apartment last year. But on the trial’s final day, Judge Tammy Kemp made two key decisions that could determine whether the jury ultimately finds Guyger guilty of murder.

As CBS DFW reports, Judge Kemp heard arguments in a closed session from prosecutors and Guyger’s defense attorneys on whether the jury can consider the Castle Doctrine in their deliberations. The Castle Doctrine functions much like “Stand Your Ground” laws in other states, allowing a person to use “force (even deadly force) in the protection of a home, vehicle, or other property if someone attempts to forcibly enter or remove an individual from the premises.”

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In what will appear to many as a bizarre reconfiguration of the law, Judge Kemp ruled that jurors can consider the Doctrine in their deliberations, where it could be used to defend Guyger’s actions—despite the fact that she was intruding on her upstairs neighbor Botham Jean’s home the night of Sept. 6.

Because Guyger has claimed that she mistook Jean’s home for her own and thus, misidentified Jean as a burglar, a jury could use the doctrine to justify her use of force in shooting Jean.

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Judge Kemp also ruled that the jury may consider returning a lesser charge—manslaughter, as opposed to murder. As NBC News explains, this means prosecutors must prove that the 31-year-old Guyger must have “intentionally or knowingly” caused Jean’s death for the jury to return a murder verdict. For Guyger to be found guilty of manslaughter, jurors must find she “recklessly” caused Jean’s death.

Throughout the seven-day trial, prosecutors tried to convince jurors that Guyger made a series of “unreasonable decisions” the night she shot and killed Jean. They drew attention to sexts she had sent to a former partner in the hours leading up to her confrontation and highlighted painfully obvious differences between Jean’s and Guyger’s apartments. It was ultimately Guyger’s negligence, prosecutor Jason Fine argued in his closing remarks, that “put...Bo in the ground.”

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Guyger’s defense, on the other hand, framed Jean’s death as a tragic accident. She was off duty but in uniform the night she killed Jean, having just completed a nearly 14-hour shift. One Texas Ranger who investigated the case said many residents at the housing complex Jean and Guyger lived in told authorities that they, too, had accidentally parked at the wrong floor or attempted to enter the wrong apartment.

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Still, no other accidental encounter at the South Side Flats complex resulted in a death. According to investigators, Jean was relaxing at home alone after just completing an errand; he was eating a bowl of ice cream when Guyger barged through his door, her gun drawn.

Taking the stand last Friday, Guyger confirmed that she had intended to kill Jean when she shot him in the chest. At one point, she also testified that being alone with Jean in the moments after she shot him seemed, to her, the “scariest thing” she could imagine.

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“Can you imagine Mr. Jean’s perspective? An intruder barging into his apartment,” Lead prosecutor Jason Hermus asked during Guyger’s cross-examination. “And then having been shot and fallen and being alone in that apartmentcan’t you imagine that being a little bit scarier than you just being alone at the moment?”

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Anne Branigin

Staff writer, The Root. Sometimes I blog slow, sometimes I blog quick. Do you have this in coconut?