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Appeals court upholds ex-Dallas officer's murder conviction in Harding alum's death

by The Associated Press | August 7, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

DALLAS -- A Texas appeals court on Thursday upheld the murder conviction of an ex-police officer who was sentenced to prison for shooting a former Harding University student in his Dallas home.

A panel of three state judges ruled that a Dallas County jury had sufficient evidence to convict Amber Guyger of murder in the 2018 shooting of Botham Jean.

Jean, a 26-year-old accountant who was originally from St. Lucia, was a 2016 alumnus of Harding University, a private Christian school in Searcy. He was living and working in Dallas at the time of his death.

The decision by the 5th Texas Court of Appeals in Dallas means Guyger, who turns 33 on Monday, will continue to serve her 10-year prison sentence and largely dashes her hopes of having the 2019 conviction overturned. She will become eligible for parole in 2024, under her current sentence.

The ruling comes in a case that drew national attention because of the strange circumstances and because it was one in a string of shootings of Black men by white police officers.

The appeals court justices did not dispute the basic facts of the case. Guyger, returning home from a long shift, mistook Jean's apartment for her own, which was on the floor directly below his. Finding the door ajar, she entered and shot him, later testifying that she thought he was a burglar.

Jean, a 26-year-old accountant, had been eating a bowl of ice cream before Guyger shot him. She was later fired from the Dallas Police Department.

Guyger's appeal hung on the claim that her mistaking Jean's apartment for her own was reasonable, and therefore, so too was the shooting. Her lawyer asked the appeals court to acquit her of murder or substitute in a conviction for criminally negligent homicide, which carries a lesser sentence.

Dallas County prosecutors countered that the error was not reasonable, that Guyger acknowledged intending to kill Jean and that "murder is a result-oriented offense."

The court's chief justice, Robert D. Burns III, and Justices Lana Myers and Robbie Partida-Kipness concurred with prosecutors, disagreeing that Guyger's belief that deadly force was needed was reasonable.

In a 23-page opinion, the justices also disagreed that evidence supported a conviction of criminally negligent homicide rather than murder, and they pointed to Guyger's own testimony that she intended to kill.

"That she was mistaken as to Jean's status as a resident in his own apartment or a burglar in hers does not change her mental state from intentional or knowing to criminally negligent," the judges wrote. "We decline to rely on Guyger's misperception of the circumstances leading to her mistaken beliefs as a basis to reform the jury's verdict in light of the direct evidence of her intent to kill."

Defense attorneys could still ask the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals -- the state's highest forum for criminal cases -- to review the appeals court's ruling. A message to Guyger's attorney was not immediately returned.

Print Headline: Ex-officer's conviction upheld in Harding grad's killing

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