In our world there are an endless number of ‘motiveless crimes’. Crimes that make no sense when the victim’s life is examined later. There are an endless number of cases where we weigh up people’s actions after the fact in cool hindsight. In this case you have extreme coincidence. A set of crazy, unfathomable actions and an unlocked door that led to one man dying and a woman destroying her life. This is the crazy case of Amber Guyger.
Ms Guyger was a Dallas police officer and had been serving as such for four years. On 6th September 2018 she finished a long shift. She drove home to her apartment in the South Side Flats complex in Dallas. She parked on the same level as usual. She then got her gear from her vehicle and draped it over her left arm. As she tried to put the key in her front door she realised it was ajar.
She pushed open the door with the arm holding two bags and her bullet proof vest. There in the semi dark she saw a shadow. She drew her service weapon from her belt. She told the shadow to show her its hands. She says she repeated this twice, loud yet not screaming. The man said something like ‘Hey, Hey’ and advanced towards her. She fired twice.
The shadow, 26 year old Botham Jean, dropped to the ground. One of the shots had hit him in the chest causing him fatal injuries. The issue here is Ms Guyger was in the wrong apartment. Ms Guyger lived at number 1378, she was standing in number 1478. She had not parked on the usual level of the car park, she had not walked to her apartment and her door had not been ajar.
The Controversy of The Killing of Botham Jean
This young man was an accountant and was relaxing in his place. He had done no wrong, he was doing what we all do. I just want to say he seems to have been a marvellous guy. He had a close loving family, he preached at church. He had all the attributes you would like in people.
He becomes aware of his door opening. He stands up and sees this young woman in the doorway. She pulls a gun and rightly he says what he did. Rightly he advances on her. It is all a mistake right? He was confused and trying to sort it out. There was a gun raised at him and he knew there was no reason for it. In that split second he reacted as we all might.
These are the events as described by Ms Guyger. The prosecution had another story. They said that she had shot Mr Jean as he sat on the couch or at least was cowering. Ms Guyger was painted as a phone obsessed person who cared little for the victim. Great play was made of the fact she did not go into full paramedic mode in order to try and save Mr Jean.
She had been having an affair with a married man, though she said that had ended, she was sexting him earlier. It was said that this showed she was not tired as she had claimed. Her mistake was not born out of working long hours that day. Also Mr Jean had a red mat outside of his door, she had no such mat outside of her place. They did not seem to allege she killed Mr Jean deliberately, more that her actions were negligent and bordering on callous.
Ms Guyger was arrested and charged with manslaughter. This charge became one of murder by the time a trial started.
I watched Ms Guyger’s evidence. I heard her side and the cross examination. The timing of the events was disputed by neighbours. Her exact actions were questioned. Much was made of her affair with a fellow cop. Much was made of her panicked reaction to the situation which, according to prosecution, went against the procedures she had been trained to follow.
What was clear was that the complex layout was almost identical floor to floor. Ms Guyger’s flat was directly below Mr Jean’s. Though a different floor, the steps from vehicle to door were the same, same looking corridor, same communal doors. It became clear that Ms Guyger and Mr Jean did not know each other. There had been no neighbour dispute or any contact that would give a malicious motive to the crime.
Ms Guyger was convicted of second degree murder ( a version of our manslaughter charge) she was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
What This Awful Tale Can Tell Us About Logic And Evidence
Ms Guyger approached the door of apartment 1478 with heavy gear on her left arm. She did this after at least a 12 hour shift ( other places have it as a 15 hour shift) and she is only 5 ft 3 inches tall. I say that accounts for the red mat not being noticed. Her angle from eye to ground over the bulky things she carried would have been limited. She was distracted by her day and according to the prosecution a stream of sexy texts.
The door system in the complex was operated by an electronic fob though in her testimony I only recall keys being mentioned. The door was ajar. The interior was dark. Mr Jean was minding his own business relaxing. Within seconds Mr Jean was shot and was on the floor.
Texas Rangers were tasked with the investigation due to the possible conflict of interest. If the Dallas police had undertaken the investigation it would have been seen as unfair given Ms Guyger’s occupation. They found witnesses that said people had parked on the wrong floor and attempted to enter flats other than their own in the past.
I recall living in a terraced street and a friend of mine walked into next door thinking it was my home. On another occasion I was sat as Mr Jean was. I heard the back door open. There in the kitchen were two strangers. They were looking for a party at a neighbouring house. It happens.
Below is a link to an article that details a law suit the family (of Mr Jean) have aimed at the owners of the apartment complex. They said that the locking mechanisms were faulty and this was known. They allege that the door should have closed over. According to testimony the doors were designed to self close for fire prevention reasons. It also details the Texas Rangers’ findings regarding how commonplace it was for residents to confuse the apartments.
Imagine someone other than Ms Guyger walking in. Someone armed. They think the same thing. The difference is they fire, realise their mistake and leave. We would have a ‘motiveless’ crime. An unsolved case where we would look at mistaken identity or turn over the victim’s life looking for an answer.
Ms Guyger called 911 immediately. She had panicked and shot Mr Jean and clearly from hearing the call she was in shock. She was not functioning as a cop. She was in a world of spinning confusion. So her actions afterwards made little procedural sense.
She shot an unarmed man and that is definitely not right. She said she was in fear of her life as he advanced. There was no evidence of him being aggressive in anyway that allowed her to fire. However, I totally accept that in that altered reality she believed she was in her apartment and therefore he was likely to attack. He was in her mind an intruder. The fact was he wasn’t an intruder and the law had to deal with that.
Initially her explanation was not accepted. Some details did not make sense. Witnesses differed in their accounts of what was seen and heard. When she switched on a light and orientated she realised her mistake. Imagine that adrenaline rush? That fear that prompted the shooting, topped off with immediate super doses of adrenaline when she realised she had got the whole thing wrong. I know I would not recall much that happened if asked later. Biologically very little would be functioning as it should.
I wonder how much of what happened in Dallas has happened elsewhere? How many coincidences have there been like this? When we look at what happens in criminal cases it should always be with one thought left at the front of our minds. Crazy awful coincidences can happen. Whenever a set of circumstances seem out of bounds with logic we should remember the case of poor Jean Botham. We should always allow that people act in crazy ways though sometimes there is no ill intent.
I hope all involved can find peace in the end.