Dallas Morning News:- A grand jury will ultimately decide whether a Dallas police officer should be charged with murder or manslaughter — or nothing at all — for killing Botham Jean in his own apartment.
But defense attorneys who’ve handled hundreds of murder cases say murder is the charge that best fits the case against Amber Guyger, who says she mistook Jean for an intruder.
She intended to kill the burglar,” defense attorney Brad Lollar said. “Her thought process was ‘I’m going to shoot the bad guy.'”
The same legal experts say critics demanding justice should be careful what they wish for because a murder case may be easier to defend.
For her part, Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson says her office’s investigation will collect all relevant evidence for its own investigation.
“The Texas Rangers made the decision to issue an arrest warrant for manslaughter,” she said Monday. “Now this case is in the hands of the Dallas County district attorney.”
Johnson defended the work of the Department of Public Safety but also said that her office was in charge now and her staff would “get to the bottom of everything.”
“We will make certain that justice is done in this case,” she added. “The grand jury will be able to look at all aspects of this case, which will include anything from murder, manslaughter or what have you.”
Guyger told police that she accidentally parked on the wrong floor and mistook Jean’s apartment for her own.
The victim’s apartment is directly above hers, on the fourth floor of the South Side Flats where they both lived.
Guyger, who was still in uniform, told investigators that the door was unlocked when she got there and she mistook Jean for a burglar when she fired her gun twice, striking Jean once in the chest.
Law enforcement is also looking into whether residents heard Guyger knocking on the door.
So why is Guyger charged with manslaughter — not murder — in Jean’s death?
According to the Texas penal code, “a person commits an offense if he recklessly causes the death of an individual.”
Prosecutors must prove Guyger acted recklessly to make a manslaughter case stick.
A person acts recklessly by consciously disregarding “a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur.”
Longtime defense attorney Brook Busbee said the manslaughter charge doesn’t fit what law enforcement said happened in Guyger’s arrest warrant affidavit.
“We don’t know all the facts, but the facts in the affidavit don’t appear to match the manslaughter charge, because the act of shooting him wasn’t reckless,” Busbee said. “According to the affidavit, in her mind, it was intentional.”
Defense attorney John Creuzot, a former judge and prosecutor running against Johnson for district attorney, said in similar cases, suspects are charged with murder. The Guyger case is a “deviation from the norm,” he said.
“I am not aware of a case in which a person shoots another person in the torso, with death as the result, and is charged with manslaughter,” Creuzot said. “In Dallas County, the longstanding practice of our law enforcement agencies, in similar cases, has been to charge suspects with murder.”
If the person “intentionally or knowingly causes the death of an individual” and “intends to cause serious bodily injury and commits an act clearly dangerous to human life,” according to the penal code.
If Guyger is charged with murder, prosecutors must prove she intended to cause or she knew firing her gun could cause serious bodily injury.
And murder, said Lollar, is the right charge for Guyger.