When they convicted former police officer Amber Guyger of murder, Dallas jurors did something that juries in other U.S. cities have been hesitant or unwilling to do, reports the Dallas Morning News.
“It’s a seismic shift,” said Aaron Wiley, a former state and federal prosecutor. “The Dallas that exists today is not the same Dallas that existed in 2004 … At the end of the day, there is a healthy skepticism regarding law enforcement officials. Who would have thought that Dallas would be at the forefront of the new civil rights movement? The epicenter is here.”
The same jury that found Guyger guilty Tuesday in the September 2018 death of her upstairs neighbor, Botham Jean, will consider imposing a sentence ranging from five years to life in prison.
Guyger, 31, who is white, shot her unarmed black neighbor to death after, she mistook his apartment for her own. The verdict prompted tears of relief from his family and chants of “black lives matter” from a crowd outside the courtroom, the Associated Press reports.
Jean’s friends and family later testified to explain how his death has affected them. Allison Jean said her son was killed just before he was due to turn 27. “My life has not been the same. It’s just been like a roller coaster. I can’t sleep, I cannot eat. It’s just been the most terrible time for me,” she said.
Prosecutors submitted text messages — accepted as evidence over defense objections — that indicated Guyger lacks sensitivity toward black people. In one, she suggests participants at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Dallas could be persuaded to go home with the use of physical violence and pepper spray. Guyger’s attorneys can argue that she deserves a light sentence because she acted out of sudden fear and confusion.
The judge is expected to provide guidance on sentencing law. Guyger was jailed Tuesday pending sentencing. Jean, an accountant from the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia, had been eating a bowl of ice cream when Guyger entered his home and shot him. The shooting drew wide attention because of the strange circumstances and because it was one in a series of shootings of unarmed black men by white police officers.
The Guyger conviction is the third against a Dallas-area police officer in two years. Last year, Roy Oliver, a former Balch Springs, Tx., officer, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for fatally shooting Jordan Edwards, an unarmed 15-year-old boy. Ken Johnson, a former Farmers Branch, Tx., officer, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for chasing down and killing 16-year-old Jose Cruz, who he caught breaking into his SUV.
Brian Poe, another former state and federal prosecutor, agreed that Dallas County juries are bucking the trend. “Historically, first responders have been given deferential treatment,” he said. “We may be seeing a shift here where that’s not the case anymore. … They’re not getting the pass like they used to.” What surprised Poe more was the fact that the Dallas County District Attorney’s office pursued the case even though its lead investigator, a Texas Ranger, believed Guyger acted reasonably.
Wiley expected a hung jury. He said police body cameras, when the footage is available, have helped to hold police officers accountable for misconduct. “We used to not need body cams,” he said. “If the police said it, it’s true.”