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Ex-Dallas officer who killed neighbor found guilty of murder

DALLAS — A white former Dallas police officer who shot her black unarmed neighbor to death after, she said, mistaking his apartment for her own was convicted of murder Tuesday in a verdict that prompted tears of relief from his family and chants of “black lives matter” from a crowd outside the courtroom.

The same jury that found Amber Guyger guilty in the September 2018 death of her upstairs neighbor, Botham Jean, will consider her fate after hearing additional testimony that started Tuesday afternoon. Her sentence could range from five years to life in prison under Texas law.

The jury took a matter of hours to convict Guyger, 31, after six days of testimony.

Cheers erupted in the courthouse as the verdict was announced, and someone yelled “Thank you, Jesus!” In the hallway outside the courtroom, a crowd celebrated and chanted “black lives matter.” When the prosecutors walked into the hall, they broke into cheers.

After the verdict was read, Guyger sat alone, weeping, at the defense table.

Jean’s friends and family later testified to explain how his death has affected them. First on the stand was Allison Jean, who said her son was killed just before he was due to turn 27.

“My life has not been the same. It’s just been like a roller coaster. I can’t sleep, I cannot eat. It’s just been the most terrible time for me,” she said.

Botham Jean’s sister, Allisa Findley, told the jury that she and her mother cry a lot, her formerly “bubbly” younger brother has retreated as if into a shell, and that her father is “not the same.”

“It’s like the light behind his eyes is off,” Findley said.

She said her children are now afraid of police.

Prosecutors also submitted text messages — accepted as evidence over defense objections — that indicated Guyger lacks sensitivity toward black people. In one, she suggests participants at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Dallas could be persuaded to go home with the use of physical violence and pepper spray. In a message sent to Guyger’s phone, the messenger suggests she would like a German shepherd because the dog is racist. Guyger declares that she hates “everything and everyone but y’all.”

Guyger’s defense attorneys can argue that she deserves a light sentence because she acted out of sudden fear and confusion. The judge is expected to provide guidance on sentencing law.

Guyger was jailed Tuesday afternoon pending sentencing. It is unclear how long the punishment phase of the trial will last. Testimony will resume Wednesday.

The basic facts of the unusual shooting were not in dispute throughout the trial. After a long shift at work and still in uniform, Guyger walked up to Jean’s apartment — which was on the fourth floor, directly above hers on the third — and found the door unlocked. Thinking the apartment was her own, she drew her service weapon and entered.

Jean, an accountant from the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia, had been eating a bowl of ice cream when Guyger entered his home and shot him.

The shooting drew widespread attention because of the strange circumstances and because it was one in a string of shootings of unarmed black men by white police officers.

“This is a huge victory, not only for the family of Botham Jean, but this is a victory for black people in America,” said Lee Merritt, one of the lawyers for Jean’s family. “It’s a signal that the tide is going to change here. Police officers are going to be held accountable for their actions, and we believe that will begin to change policing culture around the world.”

The jury that convicted Guyger was largely made up of women and people of color.

Attorney Ben Crump, also representing the family, credited the makeup of the jury for Tuesday’s conviction, and said he expects them to deliver a weighty sentence.

“I look at this jury. And I look at the diversity of this jury,” he said. “They will see past all the technical, intellectual justifications for an unjustifiable killing. And I believe they will do the right thing.”

Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata declined to comment Tuesday afternoon, saying Guyger’s lawyers asked him to wait until after sentencing. The group, which represents city police officers, has paid for Guyger’s legal defense and security.

The verdict may have defused tensions that began simmering Monday when jurors were told they could consider whether Guyger had a right to use deadly force under a Texas law known as the castle doctrine — even though she wasn’t in her own home.

The law is similar to “stand your ground” measures across the U.S. that state a person has no duty to retreat from an intruder. Prosecutor Jason Fine told jurors that while the law would have empowered Jean to shoot someone barging into his apartment, it doesn’t apply “the other way around.”

In a frantic 911 call played repeatedly during the trial, Guyger said “I thought it was my apartment” nearly 20 times. Her lawyers argued that the identical physical appearance of the apartment complex from floor to floor frequently led to tenants going to the wrong apartments.

But prosecutors questioned how Guyger could have missed numerous signs that she was in the wrong place, asked why she didn’t call for backup and suggested she was distracted by sexually explicit phone messages with her police partner.

Guyger was arrested three days after the killing. She was later fired and charged with murder . Tension has been high during the trial in Dallas, where five police officers were killed in an attack three years ago.

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Associated Press writer Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas, contributed this this report.

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For the latest on the case: https://apnews.com/5300e18b9f934c6f90b02ddbc2e0c53e/

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Follow Jake Bleiberg at www.twitter.com/jzbleiberg


Police
Cozy to boisterous: Longview makes National Night Out evening of fun with neighbors

Allen Lizza said he arrived home at 7 a.m. Tuesday in his North Longview neighborhood to find his neighbor upset because her sprinkler system had broken.

“She was all frustrated,” Lizza recalled.

Undaunted, Lizza said he and the neighbor “got muddy” in the water trying to shut off the valve for the sprinkler.

Lizza, a certified public accountant who has lived on Eric Lane off Spring Hill Road since 2013, cited his encounter as the spirit of neighborliness that exists on his street that has only eight or nine homes.

Lizza invited his neighbors and others Tuesday evening to his carport for the third National Night Out party that he has hosted in a row, often with Ingrid Self next door.

Self and others wore gray T-shirts with the message “LOVE Your Neighborhood” printed on the front and with the intersection of Eric Lane and Spring Hill Road printed on the back.

“I think we have the best neighborhood (in Longview),” said Self, who has lived on the street since December 2014 and works for the city’s Development Services Department as assistant director.

More than 20 people arrived within two hours after the party started, including Longview police officers and paramedics.

They ate hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, cupcakes and other foods, sipped drinks and sat in a big circle. They also gave Finn Miller a surprise party for his sixth birthday.

The Longview Police Department, Gregg County Sheriff’s Office and other area law enforcement agencies encouraged neighborhoods to conduct the parties with the goal of getting to know each other better — and reducing crime.

Longview observed its 29th year of National Night Out and in conjunction with the sheriff’s office registered about 113 parties.

The Longview Police Department also named its best neighborhood group — on Celebration Way between Fourth Street and Eastman Road — while the sheriff’s office honored the top parties on Inez Street in Liberty City in the southern portion of the county and Forest Lake and Judson Roads in the northern area of the county.

The small gathering and low-key atmosphere at the National Night Out party on Eric Lane contrasted with the boisterousness of hundreds of young families gathered at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Big Pines on Garfield Street, across the street from Ware East Texas Montessori Prep Academy. The Boys & Girls Clubs, the school, the Thrive360 after-school program, Buckner Children and Family Services and other agencies and groups helped to conduct the event.

Children hopped around in a bounce house, had their faces painted, ate popcorn and enjoyed games.

Drake St. Clair, 17, of Kilgore painted the cheeks of his girlfriend, Emily Janner, also 17 and a senior at Longview High School.

“He is going to put a star on her,” said Emily’s mother, Nichole Janner.

Decorated with a white cross on her left cheek and a peace sign on the other cheek, Kameron Holmes, 9, of Longview posed for pictures in an unenclosed photo booth that produced a strip of small photos. She said she likes to get her photo taken.

The event featured an educational component in addition to fun and games. Forty-one Level 3 nursing students from the University of Texas at Tyler Longview University Center attended to educate attendees about nutrition, hygiene, breastfeeding awareness and other health issues.

Nursing student Dorothy Gardner used a duster with shaving cream on balloons to simulate brushing teeth.

The students ran out of their supply of 100 packages of toothbrushes and toothpaste, nursing instructor Janelle Martinez said.


Local
Longview time capsule site at library must be moved because of 12-inch waterline

A sesquicentennial time capsule might not be buried at the Longview Public Library after all — mainly because of the capsule’s large size, City Planner Angela Choy said.

Subcommittee members of the Longview Historic Preservation Commission were surprised by how large the 5-cubic-foot metal container they ordered several weeks ago was when it arrived in September, Choy said.

They planned to fill it with relics and mementos from Longview businesses and organizations and bury it on a grassy knoll outside the library for 100 years, but now they’re looking for another location.

After the capsule arrived at her office, Choy took a closer look at the proposed burial site and noticed “major 12-inch water utility lines” around the library, particularly beneath the grassy knoll area, she said.

She then told subcommittee members at their regular monthly meeting Tuesday that they’ve got to pick a new burial site.

“It’s the size of the capsule,” Choy said, “and it’s because those lines usually have easements, and you can’t put anything on those easements because of the safety of the waterlines.”

The library grounds offer other areas where the group can bury the time capsule, Choy said.

Community Services Director Laura Hill has said brick pavers on Eastman Plaza in front of the library could be pulled up and later replaced so that the capsule could be buried beneath them. Hill’s only rule for using the plaza was, “Don’t mess with the Eastman star,” Choy said.

The subcommittee also is looking to the City Hall grounds as a possible burial site.

“Just like the library is never going away, City Hall is never going away,” Choy said, adding that either building would likely be repurposed if the city ever built newer facilities to replace them.

Just like the library next door, City Hall presents a challenge in finding space that doesn’t disrupt the existing sprinkler system, Subcommittee and Historic Preservation Commission Chairman Jim Cogar said.

Also because of the capsule’s larger-than-expected size, the subcommittee might rescind its earlier decision not to include Longview Fire Department headgear.

As for other items to include in the capsule, “You could almost get a helmet from every school district in Longview,” Choy said. “That would take up space.”

Among other issues, the subcommittee decided Tuesday not to allow electronics to be placed in the time capsule, mostly because of the risk of corrosion, though Cogar suggested other reasons to restrict them.

“I still believe that electronics is not a good idea,” he said. “Chances are that in 100 years, no one is going to know how to use them, anyway, or even know how to charge them.”

Anyone with suggestions about the time capsule may email the subcommittee at planning@longviewtexas.gov . The capsule will be buried during a ceremony at 10 a.m. May 8 as part of a six-month Longview 150 sesquicentennial celebration.

The time capsule will remain buried until it is unearthed in 2120.


Local
Parents, community members use town hall to ask about ETAA, Longview ISD ties

Longview ISD’s journey to becoming a district of charter campuses continued Tuesday night at Forest Park Magnet School with its second of four town hall meetings.

About 14 people gathered at the meeting to ask about the possibility of Longview ISD’s districtwide charter proposal.

In May, Longview got approval to turn six of its 13 schools into a district-within-a-district of charter campuses. Those campuses, operated by the nonprofit East Texas Advanced Academies, are East Texas Montessori Prep Academy, Ware East Texas Montessori Academy, Johnston-McQueen Elementary School, Bramlette STEAM Academy, J.L. Everhart Elementary School and Forest Park Magnet School.

The approval came after the passage of Senate Bill 1882. The legislation lays a path for a nonprofit charter school group to operate public school campuses. Longview ISD officials have hailed it as a way to fund innovative educational programs and receive a significant infusion of state money.

Many of the questions at the meeting were about the relationship between ETAA and Longview ISD.

A performance contract was agreed upon between the ETAA board and the Longview ISD board, said Longview ISD board president Ginia Northcutt. At the first town hall meeting, Northcutt said that contract can be terminated by the Longview ISD board if ETAA does not meet the performance standards lined out in the contract.

Superintendent James Wilcox said that, going forward, he hopes the district gets more questions from the community.

“If somebody has a question, I want them to come, and we want to give them an answer,” he said. “We can’t make them like it, but we can give them the facts and tell them where we’re at.”

The district has not applied for a districtwide status yet, Wilcox said. If the board decides it wants to apply, it will issue what is called a “Call for Great Schools,” which is an opening for proposals to run a charter campus from an entity such as ETAA.

The school board and the Texas Education Agency both must accept the proposal, he said.

“We’re trying to do (the town halls), because views differ, and we want to receive input from the community because it’s their community,” Wilcox said. “We’re trying to move forward and not stay at the status quo and get better at what we’re delivering.”

Dustin Swaim, a parent with three children at Hudson PEP Elementary School, attended the meeting to get more information, which he said he feels was successful.

“There’s been plenty of misinformation out there, so I wanted to hear it from the horse’s mouth,” he said. “I came with an open mind wanting to see what the goal is.”

Swaim said he loves the idea of more autonomy on campuses. But, on the other side, he said trying something new always brings concerns.

Paul Pastorek, TEA executive adviser, told the meeting’s attendees that principals would have more autonomy to make decisions at their respective campuses.

While they must follow all federal, state and local laws, Pastorek said, they also must meet the performance contract between the district and charter campus.

Swaim said it is important to make sure whatever is decided, it is research-based.

“You want to make sure what you’re implementing has teeth, it’s going to hold, it’s going to carry on through and be successful,” Swaim said.