On Friday, a grand jury indicted Amber Guyger with the murder of Botham Shem Jean, the 26-year-old who was gunned down while eating cereal and watching football in his apartment on September 6. Guyger had been charged—three days after the incident—with manslaughter. The grand jury took no action on that charge, returning a true bill on murder only.
Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson said, for the first time, that her office “thought it was murder all along,” but had chosen to let the Texas Rangers handle the charges while mounting their own investigation to bring to a grand jury. The body had the option to indict on the Rangers’ manslaughter charge or go another direction.
“An indictment is an extremely rare thing of a police officer for murder,” said Lee Merritt, one of the lawyers representing the Jean family in a suit against Guyger and the city of Dallas. “It’s a good first step but there’s still a long way to go.”
Every statement of satisfaction from Merritt, Johnson, and the Jean family was cut with a glimpse forward, recognition that this is just a stop along the way to their ultimate goal.
To that end, Merritt called out one particular hurdle: the fact that the Rangers investigators who brought the manslaughter charge will play a role during the trial. Dallas Police Chief U. Reneé Hall quickly recused the department from the investigation, instead handing it over to the Rangers. To convict for murder the DA’s office will have to prove that Guyger intended to kill Botham Jean—that she “intentionally and knowingly” pulled the trigger, as Johnson explained during a news conference Friday. Manslaughter signifies an act of recklessness. But, with the Rangers having handled the investigation, the DA’s office will have to convince a jury “that Amber Guyger is responsible for murder beyond a reasonable doubt by using witnesses that believe at best she was responsible for manslaughter,” Merritt said.
It’ll be an “uphill battle,” he said, but he shook off any claims that the office is being too ambitious by pursuing a murder charge rather than manslaughter. “We believe the facts are consistent with murder and we cannot go below that in hopes of securing something that would not represent justice,” said Merritt.
It’ll be DA-elect John Creuzot who tries the case. Johnson said she was confident that he will “pursue justice not only on behalf of both Jean but all the victims of Dallas County.” Merritt agrees, and says he’s comforted by the fact that some of the leaders of the Guyger investigation—namely, Public Integrity Unit Chief Jason Hermus—will be sticking around. Creuzot has said in several interviews that he believed murder was the correct charge based on media reports about the case, and he said in a recent interview with D Magazine that he believed Guyger was treated preferentially because she was a cop.
There will be many eyes on Creuzot’s team. Botham’s mother, Allison Jean, said Friday that all of St. Lucia—the Caribbean island nation in which Botham grew up and the family still lives—had “been on alert” awaiting the indictment.
“I look forward to the next step, which is a conviction of murder of Amber Guyger,” Allison Jean said. “And more so, of a penalty—the proper penalty—that will cause her to reflect on what she has done and the pain she has caused not only my son, but my family, my church, and my country.”