Lawyer for former police officer Amber Guyger asks appeals court to toss her murder conviction of Botham Jean
A Texas appeals court is mulling whether to throw out the murder conviction of Amber Guyger for the 2018 killing of Botham Jean after the former Dallas police officer's attorney argued on Tuesday that she was acting in self-defense when she accidentally entered the wrong apartment and thought she was confronting an intruder.
An attorney for Guyger, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence, argued before the Court of Appeals in the Fifth District of Texas in Dallas that Guyger should be acquitted of murder. Defense attorney Michael Mowla asked the three-judge panel to resentence Guyger on the lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide if it decides not to grant her a full acquittal.
Mowla argued that the lower court judge erred by not instructing the jury to consider that Guyger had a "reasonable belief" that she was in her apartment when she shot Jean in the chest and killed him.
"I agree she did intentionally shoot Mr. Jean because that was her intent. That was the truth. Those were the facts of the case," Mowla said.
But Mowla cited case law in arguing that Guyger would be "entitled to use deadly force in self-defense, if she had walked into her apartment and there was an intruder."
"My client, according to the facts, had a reasonable apprehension of danger when she walked into what she thought was her apartment," Mowla said. "If we agree that she thought she walked into her apartment, then the mistake of fact instruction applies. And then the question is, was her belief, was her apprehension of the danger, reasonable?"
Justice Robbie Partida-Kipness interrupted Mowla to question the validity of his argument.
"Just because of her alleged mistake in belief about where she was doesn't negate her intent to kill," Partida-Kipness said.
Mowla countered that "it negates the evil intent" requirement for murder.
"We wouldn't be talking about this if she had walked into her own apartment," Mowla said.
Prosecutor Douglas Gladden asked the court to reject Guyger's petition, arguing, "This is a murder case not a criminal trespass case."
"She knew Botham was a living human being. She pointed a gun at him. She intended to kill him," Gladden told the justices. "That's murder. It's not mistake of fact, it's not justified. Amber Guyger murdered Botham Jean. This court should say so and affirm the trial court's judgment."
Gladden said the "mistake of fact" claim by Mowla was never raised during Guyger's trial.
During Guyger's trial, her attorneys used a similar self-defense argument, which was rejected by the Dallas County jury that convicted her of murder after deliberating for less than two days.
Following the arguments, Chief Justice Robert Burns told the attorneys that the panel will take the case under advisement and "we will issue our opinion in due course."
Guyger did not attend Tuesday's hearing, which was held online via Zoom.
Jean's family issued a statement Tuesday through their attorneys, saying, "We vehemently oppose Amber Guyger’s appeal and her attempt to get a reduced sentence."
"When Amber Guyger was sentenced, our family finally found a measure of justice and peace," the statement reads. "Her actions were clearly criminal: she saw a black man and shot, without reason and without justification, murdering him in his own home. The jury delivered a thoughtful and just verdict that should not be overturned."
Jean, who was an accountant for the international auditing firm Pricewaterhousecoopers in Dallas, was in his apartment alone eating ice cream on the night of Sept. 6, 2018, when Guyger, who had just gotten off duty and was still in her police uniform, barged through his unlocked front door and opened fire on him.
Moments after the shooting, she realized she had mistaken the apartment for her own, which was one floor below.
She testified that when she entered the apartment she saw the silhouette of a figure, so she pulled her "gun out and I yelled at him."
"I was scared to death," Guyger testified during her trial in 2019, adding that her "heart rate just skyrocketed."
Guyger broke down in tears on the witness stand, saying, "I'm so sorry. I never wanted to take an innocent person's life."
"I wish he was the one with the gun that killed me," she said, overcome with emotion.
In a remarkable act of kindness, Jean's brother Brandt Jean, who took the witness stand during Guyger's sentencing, said he forgave her and asked if he could hug her, which the trial judge allowed him to do.
"I love you just like anyone else and I'm not going to hope you rot and die," Brandt Jean told Guyger during the sentencing. "I personally want the best for you. I wasn't going to say this in front of my family, I don't even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you because I know that's exactly what Botham would want for you. Give your life to Christ. I think giving your life to Christ is the best thing Botham would want for you."