A panel of Texas justices scrutinized the logic of former Dallas officer Amber Guyger’s defense attorney during a Tuesday hearing as Guyger seeks to have her murder conviction in the 2018 shooting death of Botham Jean overturned.
Michael Mowla appeared before justices of the Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas during the hearing via Zoom to argue that Guyger’s conviction should be overturned. The district attorney’s office argued at the hearing that the conviction should stand. Guyger is serving a 10-year prison sentence after being convicted of murder by a jury in 2019.
Mowla said that if the justices aren’t “inclined to acquit her outright” Guyger could be convicted of criminally negligent homicide, which carries a maximum prison sentence of two years. The 32-year-old did not appear during the hearing.
According to Guyger and Mowla, the then-off-duty Dallas officer thought she was inside her own apartment and that Jean was an intruder when she shot and killed him. At the time 26-year-old Jean, a St. Lucia native, was eating ice cream on his couch when she entered his apartment and shot him.
While Mowla argued during the hearing that Guyger’s use of force should be excused by the mistake of fact provision because she thought she was inside her own apartment, the justices questioned his logic.
In total, the justices interrupted Mowla eight times during his 20-minute presentation.
“Mr Mowla, you’re overlooking the fact that Ms. Guyger testified that she inetntionally shot Mr. Jean,” Chief Justice Robert D. Burns III said.
The mistake of fact defense is used when a defendant misunderstood a fact that negates an element of a crime, such as intent to commit the crime they are accused of.
“I’m not overlooking the fact, your honor,” Mowla replied. “If she had walked into her apartment and there was an intruder inside her apartment … she would have been entitled to use deadly force and self-defense.”
He said Guyger had a “reasonable apprehension of danger” when she entered Jean’s apartment under the belief that it was her own and that according to case lawnGuyger did not have to be in actual danger, but only apparent danger.
Guyger’s unit at South Side Flat Apartments was located one floor below Jean’s.
Justice Lana Myers offered similar criticism against Mowla’s argument, noting that according to legal precedent there must be evidence demonstrating the defendant did not have intent to kill.
Mowla confirmed that Guyger intended to kill Jean but defended her by adding that she’d fired just two shots and was acting because she thought she was in danger.
“Mr. Mowla, aren’t you erroneously mixing mistake of fact, defense and self-defense justification?” Myers interjected as Justice Robbie Partida-Kipness nodded. “Those are in two different titles in our Texas penal code. Mistake of fact is a defense and self-defense is a justification,” Myers continued.
Jurors considered both mistake of fact and self-defense claims during the trial and rejected each. Criminally negligent homicide was not an option for jurors to consider.
It’s possible but would be unusual for justices to acquit someone and consider another conviction on a different charge.
Prosecutor Doug Gladden said before the justices on Tuesday that Guyger “knew Botham was a living human being. She pointed a gun at him. She intended to kill him. That’s murder. It’s not negligent, it’s not mistake of fact, its not justified. Amber Guyger murdered Botham Jean. This court should say so and affirm the trial court’s judgment.”
Jean’s mother told the Dallas Morning News Guyger’s appeal has stalled her family’s healing process.
“I know everyone has a right of appeal, and I believe she’s utilizing that right,” Allison Jean said. “But on the other hand, there is one person who cannot utilize any more rights because she took him away.”