UPDATED at 3:51 a.m. EDT, Dec. 1:
A grand jury in Dallas on Friday returned an indictment to charge former police officer Amber Guyger with murder for killing Botham Jean in his own apartment in September. The panel decided there was enough evidence to show the manslaughter charges Guyger, 30, was initially facing were not strong enough for shooting an innocent, unarmed Black man to death after she illegally entered his apartment.
The news offered hope to the family of Jean, 26, that Guyger would not get off with a light punishment for killing their loved one under the most suspicious of circumstances. If convicted, Guyger could spend the rest of her life in prison.
Shortly after the indictment was returned, Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson, Botham Jean’s parents and their attorney, Lee Merritt, held a somber yet somewhat celebratory press conference.
“We really are not happy,” Bertrum Jean, Botham’s father, said, “but we take consolation, we take comfort at this time.”
Allison Jean, Botham’s mother, said he was pleased with the murder indictment. As for Guyger, she added, “She inflicted tremendous evil on my son.”
Guyger was subsequently booked into the Mesquite Jail on Friday afternoon before being released quickly on a $200,000 bond. Her lawyer, Robert Rogers, cited “political pressure” to bring a murder indictment that he said were not warranted.
“Two innocent lives have been forever changed,” Rogers said Friday. “I feel for Botham Jean’s family, and I can’t imagine the pain they are going through. But when you look at the law, this was a tragic mistake.”
He added: “Amber Guyger felt she was in her apartment. I don’t think there is any dispute to that. She was justified in her actions.”
Jean’s mother begged to differ.
“I truly believe that she inflicted tremendous evil on my son,” Allison Jean said. “I look forward to the next test, which is a conviction … a proper penalty so she can reflect on what she has done.”
Johnson, the district attorney, stressed that the indictment was not one against the police, who she said must abide by the law just like everybody else.
The tense anticipation ahead of Friday’s announcement lasted all week, as the grand jury convened for three days beginning Monday. Jean’s family could be seen at the Dallas County district attorneys office ahead of the announcement, in a sign that it would certainly be coming down on Friday.
There was a considerable amount of skepticism as the grand jury finally met more than three months after Guyger killed Jean, 26. On the night of Sept. 6, she illegally entered his apartment, which was located one floor above her own, and shot Jean to death — that much has been established as true. But everything else that transpired during that fatal episode was not exactly clear, with only Guyger’s word to go on.
She claimed that following a long day on the job as a Dallas police officer, she implausibly mistook his apartment for her own and, after ordering Jean not to move, shot him twice before realizing the error of her ways. Her story was greeted by doubt because of a number of factors, especially her assertion that Jean’s door was ajar. Videos posted on social media by neighbors appeared to show that apartment doors in the building shut automatically, which seemed to indicate that Guyger was lying.
In addition to the inconsistencies in her alibis, which have changed several times, Dallas police, of which Guyger was a member for five years before being fired, appeared to be helping to cover up the shooting for their colleague. The department was accused of allowing Guyger enough time to scrub her social media accounts and get her story straight before turning herself in three days after killing Jean. It also gave Guyger enough time to move out of her apartment, which was never searched by police despite five warrants allowing them to do so.
Guyger was ultimately arrested in late September and charged with manslaughter, which many felt was insufficient considering the nature of the shooting. The charge, which was more than a month after the shooting, came after Dallas Police Chief U Renee Hall claimed she was “prohibited” from firing Guyger.
Murder charges against a police officer are notoriously hard to prosecute. There are roughly 1,000 police shootings every year in the United States, but officers seldom face justice. According to CNN, only 80 cops were arrested on murder or manslaughter charges for on-duty shootings between 2005 and April 2017. However, only 35 percent of those arrests led to convictions in that 12-year period.
In one of those rare instances, former Dallas police officer Roy Oliver was in August found guilty of murder in the 2017 shooting of a Black teenager, Jordan Edwards. But in a sign that may bode well for Guyger, Oliver was sentenced to just 15 years, with the possibility of parole after serving seven and a half.
Johnson, who was accused of bungling the case from the beginning, remained on the job weeks after her losing on Election Day to John Creuzot, a Black Democrat who said he would have charged Guyger with murder long ago.
Johnson’s predecessor, former Dallas County DA Craig Watkins, told NewsOne recently that manslaughter charges may be easier to prove than murder and offered some words of caution for Creuzot, whose office will ultimately inherit the case after he’s inaugurated next year.
“It’s a precarious situation to make a statement that it should be a murder case without knowing the facts,” Watkins said last week.