What Jurors Are Considering as They Consider Amber Guyger’s Fate

Kaufman County
Former Dallas Police Department officer Amber Guyger's trial, the object of local and national media's fixation for the better part of a week and a half, has moved in fits and starts.

Before the trial proper even started, it took attorneys on both sides more than a week to cull through 800 potential jurors. Then there's been the lengthy fights over what experts could — or, more often, could not — testify about, an unexpected decision by the Dallas County District Attorney's office to rest its case and an abbreviated Saturday court session that was frustration for all sides.

The jury in the case has suffered at the whims of prosecutors Jason Hermus and Jason Fine, defense attorneys Robert Rogers and Toby Shook, and Dallas County District Judge Tammy Kemp, who's kept them sequestered away from their families and electronics throughout the trial.

Now it's the jury's turn to be the center of attention. Monday afternoon, following closing arguments that were spirited even if they didn't break new ground, the jury began deliberating Guyger's case a little after lunch. They'll decide whether her actions on Sept. 6, 2018, are worthy of a murder conviction, a manslaughter conviction or an acquittal.

If Guyger is convicted of murder, she faces five to 99 years in prison. A manslaughter conviction carries a potential two- to 20-year sentence.

A Dallas County grand jury charged Guyger with murder last winter because she shot Jean on purpose. In Texas, someone commits manslaughter when they "recklessly cause the death of another individual." If Guyger had shot through the door and inadvertently hit Jean, for instance, she might be on trial for manslaughter, according to legal experts.

Despite Guyger saying during cross examination that she intended to kill Jean when she fired two shots at the 26-year-old, Kemp decided Monday morning that the jury would be allowed to consider both murder and manslaughter as they deliberate Guyger's fate.

Dallas criminal defense attorney Pete Schulte, a former assistant district attorney and Dallas cop, told the Observer on Monday that a jury decision to convict Guyger on manslaughter charges would be a compromise verdict inconsistent with Texas law.

According to Schulte, Guyger is guilty, according to both her own admissions and those of the prosecution and defense teams, of murder or nothing at all. The jury's decision will come down to whether it believes two decisions — Guyger's belief that Jean's apartment was hers at the time of the decision and Guyger's choice to use lethal force — were reasonable at the time they were made.

It doesn't matter, according to Schulte, whether jurors perceive Guyger's actions before the shooting to have been reckless. If she reasonably believed that Jean was an intruder who'd entered into her habitation by force, then Texas law says she should be found not guilty, Schulte said, regardless of whether she could've used her police radio to call for backup or walked back to her car.

The law focuses on the instant the shooting happens, at whether the situation at the time allows for legal self-defense, not whether the person exercising legal force could've done something different.

"The testimony throughout this trial has led us to believe that her actions were not believable or reasonable." — Daryl Washington

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Daryl Washington, one of the attorneys representing the Jeans' civil interest, said that the evidence presented at trial shows that Guyger's actions were unreasonable. She could've just looked up, Washington said, and realized she was on the wrong floor as she headed for Jean's apartment. 

"This case is going to come down to whether Amber Guyger's actions were reasonable," Washington said. "The testimony throughout this trial has led us to believe that her actions were not believable or reasonable." 
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young