A little over a year ago, a tragic shooting occurred in Dallas, Texas. I wrote about it at the time.
It’s human nature to, when an innocent person is killed, assume a victim and a villain. In this case, I think I can safely say, we have two victims.
I can sympathize with and grieve for the dead young man, Botham Jean. I’ve been “on his side of the doorway,” so to speak.
The case went to trial last week, and went to verdict early this week. Former-officer Guyger was convicted of murder, and sentenced to ten years in prison.
At the risk of oversimplification, “murder” is the criminal killing of a human being, generally with malice (evil intent). A lesser offense is “manslaughter,” which implies the reckless killing of someone you didn’t intend to slay. On the other side of the scales of justice is “justifiable homicide,” which basically means you were right to kill the deceased. But there is also the lesser-known “excusable homicide,” which essentially says, “In the bright light of 20/20 hindsight, you shouldn’t have killed him, but within the totality of unusual circumstances, any reasonable and prudent person might have made the same mistake, and therefore the killer should be held harmless.”
Watching the defendant’s cross-examination last week, I cringed when I saw what I knew would be a turning point in the trial. One source quoted the brief exchange that seems to have hurt Guyger’s case the worst:
“’When you aimed and pulled the trigger at Mr. Jean, shooting him in center mass exactly where you are trained, you intended to kill Mr. Jean,’ (prosecutor) Hermus said. ‘I did,’ Guyger said.”
Under Texas law, a finding of intent to kill is essential to a murder verdict. In a self-defense shooting, our purpose is to shoot to STOP, that is, to stop the opponent from killing or crippling us. “Shoot to stop,” as I’ve preached for decades, is not a figure of speech from the lexicon of political correctness; “shoot to kill” versus “shoot to stop” goes to the heart of state of mind. State of mind, in turn, is what makes or breaks a self-defense plea.
One of the leading experts on deadly force law today is attorney Andrew Branca, author of “Law of Self Defense.” While the trial was going on, he made an excellent point on a great strength for the defense, the fact that the Texas Ranger who led the investigation determined that within the cookie-cutter architecture of the building where Jean and Guyger each resided, a huge number of other residents had also mistakenly gone to a wrong apartment thinking it was their own. Branca reasoned – correctly, I think – that this showed that any reasonable and prudent person under the circumstances in question might have thought they were in their own apartment when they entered the not-fully-closed door in question.
The “shot to kill” thing may, ironically, have been itself the death wound to her self-defense plea. Injudicious remarks and postings of macho police memes on her social media, presented during the sentencing phase, didn’t help her any either.
Please read the links – the comments attached to each will be instructive, too – and feel free to share your opinions here.
Note that a lot of the early commentary was off base. Many thought that the death might have been the result of a lover’s spat between Jean and Guyger; it turns out they didn’t even know each other. Reporters at the time made much of her not noticing vases of flowers and a red doormat at Jean’s apartment; it turns out that those reporters saw memorial flowers left in Botham Jean’s memory after the shooting. And, ask yourself, how often you look down at your feet or the floor as you walk down a hall to the door of a hotel room or apartment.
Some other elements were in play, too, but I’m out of space here so we’ll look at that next time.