JUSTICE For Botham Jean
It's only been a few hours since we talked about the closing arguments in Amber Guyger's murder trial, but now we have a verdict. A jury found the former Dallas cop guilty of murdering Botham Jean in his own home last September. I'm still in shock. It's like there are laws in this country against killing black men. I had a hunch how this would turn out and it feels great to be wrong.
I wasn't the only one worried Guyger would moonwalk out of the courtroom a free home invader. Dallas church leaders were already calling for non-violent protest in the event of an acquittal. C'mon, guys, don't start rehearsing the 2019 remix of "We Shall Overcome" before the jury's even finished deliberations. Guyger tried to stand her ground and claim self-defense for senselessly killing Jean. She had the gall to invoke Texas's "Castle Doctrine" for Jean's own residence, which she mistook for her own after all her senses apparently failed her. It took just two days for the jury to rightly give those bogus arguments the middle finger of justice.
Jean's family burst into tears when they heard the verdict. His black life mattered. They won't have to find some old gypsy to whisper "thinner" in Guyger's ear. Real, legal justice was served. Nothing can bring Jean back but his death is not just an "accident" or a "tragedy" with two victims. There was only one legitimate victim, and Jean's family can mourn him in peace. We can all say that Botham Jean was murdered and conservatives can't rush to correct us like they do about Trayvon Martin and so many others: "Well, actually..."
I applaud the jury for making the right call, but prosecutors Jason Hermus and Jason Fine deserve a great deal of praise. (It's why I'm pitching a TV pilot called "The Jasons of Justice.") They never let the jury forget that Botham Jean was a living, breathing human being before Amber Guyger burst into his home, guns blazing. They beat her sorry-ass defense until it cried for its momma. They didn't just ask the jury to put themselves into Jean's shoes the night of his murder. They made each jury member try them on.
FINE: [Jean's] eating ice cream on his couch. So, if you're sitting and eating ice cream, you get shot in the heart? Is that what we're saying? [Guyger made] unreasonable decisions that put her in that seat and Bo in the ground.
It was an uphill battle to convince a Texas jury to convict a police officer, even a former one who should've never been issued a badge and gun. Fine stressed that holding Guyger accountable didn't mean the jury disliked cops. Hermus also insisted on the jury holding a trained police officer to a higher standard rather than giving Guyger the "Get Out Of Jail free" card she'd hoped was her birthright. This woman committed a Rube Goldberg series of blunders that resulted in a man's death. That couldn't go unpunished.
HERMUS: This is not one of those things where you can just say, "Whoops, too bad for you, buddy. You're buried six feet under. I'm gonna go on with my life." No. Amber Guyger is guilty of murder, and the state is entitled to that verdict. Because that is the just verdict, and it is unacceptable that there could be no consequence for all of her unreasonable acts and unreasonable decisions that she made at that time.
Amber Guyger now faces five to 99 years in a prison of her own making. She can no more escape her inevitable confinement than Jean can escape the cold ground she sentenced him to for eternity. I feel no personal animus for her. To borrow from Rod Serling: "This is not hatred; this is retribution. This is not revenge; this is justice."
Botham Jean never had to die. My greatest hope is that someone will think twice before pulling a gun, will consider all other options before taking a human life -- even when they might believe themselves justified. If future lives are spared, we can thank Bo. For now, let's remember the man he was.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.