The castle doctrine is the legal notion that your home is your castle, and you have the right to use lethal force to defend it. But on Tuesday, a Texas jury confirmed that the statute protects homeowners against intruders - not the other way around.
When Tammy Kemp, the African-American District Judge presiding over Amber Guyger’s murder trial, allowed the castle doctrine to be considered, many believed the ex-Dallas police officer would be found not guilty of murdering Botham Jean, the unarmed Black man whose apartment she mistakenly entered, thinking it was her own.
Upon seeing Jean sitting on the couch, eating ice cream and watching TV, Guyger claimed she thought he was an intruder and she shot and killed Jean in “self defense.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Guyger was found guilty of murder, facing up to 99 years in prison. According to Buzzfeed, the jury in this case was made up of five Black people, four Latinx, two white people, and one Asian person. The verdict is a rare instance of a police officer, specifically a white officer, being held responsible for killing a Black person.
On the second day of deliberations, the jury rejected Guyger’s defense that she thought she was entering her own apartment and acted in self-defense against an intruder. Guyger’s apartment was in the same building, the South Side Flats apartment complex. At the time, Guyger was off-duty, but still in uniform.
The jury had the option of either finding her innocent of any crime – possibly citing the castle doctrine – finding her guilty of manslaughter or finding her guilty of murder. In the end, they chose justice.
According to the New York Times, when the courtroom doors opened on Tuesday, chants erupted as supporters of Botham Jean’s family repeated the verdict aloud and shouted “Black lives matter!”
At a post-verdict news conference, attorneys for Jean’s family recited the names of other Black people who have been killed by the police in recent years, including Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice. They also hoped that this latest verdict would be a turning point for racial justice and police reform.
Said Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for the Jean family, “For so many unarmed Black and brown human beings across America, this verdict today is for them.”
However, according to the New York Times, while Guyger faces a maximum sentence of 99 years, she could be sentenced to as little as five years.
Outbursts in courtroom follow reading of guilty verdict for ex-Dallas police officer Amber Guyger in wrong apartment killing.— ABC News (@ABC) October 1, 2019
The jury convicted Guyger of murder in the shooting of Botham Jean after mistaking his apartment for her own. https://t.co/CXrQ2VZGvN pic.twitter.com/MsTYgkOygn
Botham Jean family attorney Ben Crump after the conviction of Amber Guyger:— NBC News (@NBCNews) October 1, 2019
"This verdict is for Trayvon Martin, it's for Michael Brown, it's for Sandra Bland, it's for Tamir Rice, it's for Eric Garner ... for so many unarmed black and brown human beings all across America." pic.twitter.com/UWA1da32gj
Michael Brown and Tamir Rice are two police-involved shootings in which the officers involved suffered minimal consequences. Brown’s killer, officer Darren Wilson, was never charged with any crime, while the officer who gunned down 12-year-old Tamir Rice, Timothy Loehmann, was never even indicted by a grand jury.
In some cases, including that of Eric Garner, the officer responsible for killing an unarmed Black man was not only not charged, but able to remain on desk duty and paid by their department. It took five years for officer, Daniel Pantaleo, to be relieved of his duty with the NYPD. He strangled 43-year-old Garner by using an illegal chokehold.
The most recent example of an officer being convicted of wrongdoing happened in April, however that involved a Black officer who was found guilty of killing a white woman, who phoned law enforcement over what she believed was a sexual assault happening nearby. Mohamed Noor would be convicted of murdering Justine Damond and became the first officer in Minnesota history to ever be convicted of an on-duty shooting death of a citizen.
The Noor verdict came almost two years after the officer who shot and killed Philando Castile was found not guilty of all charges against him. That tragic incident, also in Minnesota, was caught on video with Castile informing the officer who pulled him over, that he had a legal firearm. While reaching for identification, he was shot and killed, anyway.
Social media was elated that justice was served in Botham Jean’s case. The reaction indicates the long-standing failures of American justice. See what some had to say, below:
Botham Jean should be alive. But if someone like Amber Guyger murders him in an America that stays true to what is promised on paper—paraphrasing Dr. King—this is what is supposed to happen. I keep longing for the day when we are not surprised by justice. https://t.co/TDBu7wEUoP— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) October 1, 2019
Let’s be clear: Amber Guyger could not “stand her ground” in a house that wasn’t hers. The house belonged to #BothamJean.— THIS IS A MAXINE WATERS STAN ACCOUNT (@MsPackyetti) October 1, 2019
Very few officers are convicted for killing black people. This is accountability. Justice means #BothamJean would still be alive. https://t.co/wVuKXxlcvG
I hope Botham Jean's family finds some peace.— Clint Smith (@ClintSmithIII) October 1, 2019
Nothing will bring back Botham Jean.— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) October 1, 2019
But today there was accountability for his killer.
Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Eric Garner—their families and so many others never got to see any justice at all.
We won't forget. #BlackLivesMatter https://t.co/h7Eukezx0h
You know society is f*cked when a person is convicted of murder for breaking into somebody's house and killing him and your reaction is "wow, didn't see that coming" https://t.co/a71ixH5fWA— Yes, You're Racist (@YesYoureRacist) October 1, 2019
Convicting Amber Guyger of murder is a step toward justice for #BothamJean. But Guyger’s inability to accept or comprehend her culpability is indicative of the work still left to do to address the rampant, unapologetic and shameless systemic racism in our criminal justice system.— Natasha Rothwell (@natasharothwell) October 1, 2019
Photo: Kaufman County Sheriff's Office