DALLAS (AP) – A white Dallas police officer has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for fatally shooting her unarmed, black neighbor in his home.
The jury sentenced Amber Guyger on Wednesday. Guyger was convicted of murder Tuesday in the September 2018 killing of her upstairs neighbor, Botham Jean.
In Texas, a murder sentence can range from five years to life in prison, but the judge also instructed jurors on a so-called sudden passion defense, which carries a range of 2-20 years behind bars.
Guyger was still dressed in her police uniform after a long shift when she shot Jean, a 26-year-old accountant from the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia. She was fired from the force and charged with murder.
Amber Guyger, who said she mistook the man’s apartment for her own, which was directly below, was convicted of murder in a verdict that drew tears of relief from his family and chants of “black lives matter” from a crowd outside the courtroom.
Guyger testified that she mistook Jean’s apartment for her own, which was one floor below, and that she thought he was a burglar in her home.
The shooting drew widespread attention because of the strange circumstances and because it was one in a string of shootings of unarmed black men by white police officers.
The verdict was “a victory for black people in America,” said Lee Merritt, one of the lawyers for Jean’s family. “It’s a signal that the tide is going to change here. Police officers are going to be held accountable for their actions, and we believe that will begin to change policing culture around the world.”
The jury was largely made up of women and people of color.
Attorney Ben Crump, also representing the family, credited the makeup of the jury with Tuesday’s conviction, and said he expects them to deliver a weighty sentence.
“I look at this jury. And I look at the diversity of this jury,” he said. “They will see past all the technical, intellectual justifications for an unjustifiable killing. And I believe they will do the right thing.”
Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata declined to comment Tuesday, saying Guyger’s lawyers asked him to wait until after sentencing. The group, which represents city police officers, has paid for Guyger’s legal defense and security.
The verdict may have defused tensions that began simmering Monday when jurors were told they could consider whether Guyger had a right to use deadly force under a Texas law known as the castle doctrine — even though she was not in her own home. The law is similar to “stand your ground” measures across the U.S. that declare a person has no duty to retreat from an intruder.
In a frantic 911 call played repeatedly during the trial, Guyger said “I thought it was my apartment” nearly 20 times. Her lawyers argued that the identical physical appearance of the apartment complex from floor to floor frequently led to tenants going to the wrong apartments.
But prosecutors questioned how Guyger could have missed numerous signs that she was in the wrong place. They also asked why she did not call for backup and suggested she was distracted by sexually explicit phone messages with her police partner.
Guyger, 31, was arrested three days after the killing. She was later fired and charged with murder.Tension has been high during the trial in Dallas, where five police officers were killed in an attack three years ago.
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