[Update: This was one of my think pieces, where I’m having trouble understanding something and try to work it out in writing. In retrospect, I think I go down the wrong path when discussing the murder charge. Sorry.]
So Amber Guyger was found guilty of murder, and I’m still trying to make sense of it, but think I’m probably okay with it.
A Dallas County jury on Tuesday convicted fired police officer Amber Guyger of murder for fatally shooting Botham Jean in his apartment last year.
Guyger, 31, fatally shot 26-year-old Jean in his apartment last year. She had said she mistook his apartment for her own and thought Jean was a burglar. She is the first Dallas officer convicted of murder since the 1970s.
I say “probably” because I haven’t seen a good explanation of how this is the crime of murder, so I can only guess.
Guyger admits the shooting, but says she believed she was in her own apartment, which caused her to interpret Jean’s presence as an intrusion, and his failure to submit to her authority as aggression, to which she responded with lethal force in self defense. If that’s actually how it happened, then it’s hard to see this as a murder, because the crime of murder usually requires something like an intent to unlawfully kill someone, and this sounds more like a mistake.
That’s not to say this wasn’t some other kind of serious crime. I don’t know how Texas law works, but in most places it’s a pretty serious crime–often called manslaughter–to kill someone by mistake if your mistake was due to something like negligence or recklessness, which sounds a lot like what Guyger confessed to by admitting she went to the wrong apartment.
(I’m being vague because I don’t know enough about how the laws works in Texas.)
But these laws can be tricky. As the Dallas Morning News explains,
Guyger was initially arrested on a manslaughter charge. But in Texas, manslaughter is a reckless act — like firing a gun into the air and killing someone. A grand jury indicted Guyger on a murder charge because investigators believe she intended to pull the trigger.
To which the defense response is basically that she intended to pull the trigger, but she thought it was necessary to do so because she believed (however mistakenly) that her life was in danger.
I have seen bits of the prosecution argument in the news, and as near as I can tell (for whatever that’s worth) the prosecutor argued that Guyger was angry at the apparent intruder — and she either (1) charged into the apartment intending to kill him, (2) charged into the department when she could have remained safe outside, and/or (3) didn’t do enough to establish that he was a threat to her life before shooting him. This kind of argument nicely takes the question of her mistaken belief out of the picture, because even if it was her apartment, what she did would still have been a crime.
Except…Texas has a castle doctrine law that basically says people are allowed to defend themselves in their homes. As near as I can tell from news reports, it raises the prosecutor’s burden of proof.
If that’s what happened, it answers one of the questions people have been asking, which is how could Guyger’s lawyer raise a castle doctrine argument — an argument about self-defense in one’s own home — when it wasn’t even her home? The answer is that part of the prosecutor’s argument for murder is that what Guyger did would be murder even if she was in her own home, where the castle doctrine applies.
That’s where my guesswork has to end, because deciding whether or not Guyger would have been justified in shooting Jean if he had been in her home depends on the very specific facts of what happened that night. The jury has heard all the testimony about those facts, and I have not, so I’m not going to argue with their decision.