A former Dallas cop convicted of murdering a 26-year-old accountant after claiming she walked into the wrong apartment and mistook the resident for an intruder tried to argue through her attorney on Tuesday that she was convicted of the wrong crime. Amber Guyger was sentenced to 10 years on Oct. 2, 2019 in the death of Botham Jean, but she and her attorney, Michael Mowla, are trying to have the murder conviction overturned and instead have a trial court consider punishment for criminally negligent homicide, a lesser offense with a maximum prison sentence of two years. Mowla argued at an appellate court hearing via Zoom that a defense to prosecution known as “mistake of fact” should apply in Guyger’s case. Texas penal code maintains that in cases where “mistake of fact” is applicable, an “actor through mistake formed a reasonable belief about a matter of fact.”
“My client, according to the facts, had a reasonable apprehension of danger when she walked into what she thought was her apartment,” Mowla said. “Now if we agree that she thought she walked into her apartment, then the mistake of fact instruction applies, and then the question is was her belief, was her apprehension of the danger, reasonable.” Jurors already concluded that the answer to that question is no.
Guyger had several indicators that Jean’s apartment was not her own, and the prosecution listed them in closing arguments: Jean had a red doormat in front of his unit. There was an apartment sign indicating the apartment number. And even though Jean’s apartment lock hadn’t latched properly, leaving the door accessible, a “blinking red light” signaled that Guyger’s key wasn’t recognized when she tried to enter it. There was no “whirring motor sound from the key,” and Guyger should’ve noticed how it felt to walk from concrete onto carpet, the prosecution argued.
Mowla still tried to argue in his appeal effort that Guyger’s mistaken belief she had entered her apartment was reasonable. He cited testimony from a civil attorney who lived in the apartment complex. “He testified that one time he walked into the wrong apartment and didn’t realize he was in the wrong apartment until he saw a lady sitting on the couch looking at him with amazement,” Mowla said.
Justices stopped Mowla’s 20-minute presentation eight times, The Dallas Morning News pointed out. In one of those instances, a justice explained that there has to be evidence negating the intent to kill for the mistake of fact defense to apply in this case. The defense requires that a person lack the culpable mental state to commit the crime in question, and that culpable mental state includes intent. “You’re overlooking the fact that Ms. Guyger testified she intended to shoot Mr. Jean,” Chief Justice Robert Burns III told Mowla.
Justice Lana Myers asked Mowla if he was “erroneously mixing ‘mistake of fact’ defense and self-defense,” and the attorney failed to give a clear answer, instead arguing that his client didn’t have evil intent and criminally negligent homicide is a more viable option for the court. “She should’ve been paying more attention,” Mowla said.
Assistant district attorney Douglas Gladden said in his arguments that this is a murder case, not a criminal trespassing case, and the matter of fact defense doesn’t apply. “She knew Botham was a living human being. She pointed a gun at him. She intended to kill him. That’s murder,” Gladden said. “It’s not negligent. It’s not mistake of fact. It’s not justified.
”Amber Guyger murdered Botham Jean. This court should say so and affirm the trial court’s judgment.”
It’s unclear when justices will be making a decision in the Guyger appeal case. David Coale, an appellate lawyer unaffiliated with the Guyger case, told The Dallas Morning News that justices usually take two to three months to decide on appeal cases.
Relatives of Botham Jean said in a statement ABC affiliate WFAA obtained that they “vehemently oppose” Guyger’s appeal and attempt to get a reduced sentence. “When Amber Guyger was sentenced, our family finally found a measure of justice and peace,” they said in the statement. “Her actions were clearly criminal: she saw a black man and shot, without reason and without justification, murdering him in his own home. The jury delivered a thoughtful and just verdict that should not be overturned.”
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