An indictment doesn’t answer questions. It raises them.
In the case of Amber Guyger, there’s already been one hurried decision. As the criminal justice system plods through precisely what, if anything, the off-duty and since-fired Dallas police officer may be guilty of for her Sept. 6 shooting death of Botham Jean in his own apartment, it’s incumbent on the rest of us to keep our powder dry.
We simply don’t know what the prosecutors and grand jurors, who last week upgraded her charge from manslaughter to murder, might know.
This indictment, however, poses more questions than usual.
Was this no more than a catastrophic case of a befuddled apartment dweller in Guyger, who lived in a unit below, mistaking the apartment for hers and Jean for a burglar? Or is there some other pertinent fact we don’t know about?
If there isn’t anything more, can a case of mistaken place and identity be the basis for a murder charge? Is wanton negligence enough for such a conviction?
We can only hope, pray and trust that there is a solid foundation for the charge. Otherwise, those who seek justice for Jean may be set up for unbridled disappointment — if a trial jury, saddled with a much greater burden of proof than a grand jury, ultimately decides a year from now that this was no more than a horrific accident, however abhorrent.
The questions are all-the-more dire, the implications all-the-more ominous, due to the fact that Guyger is white and a police officer, and Jean is black — a completely innocent, upstanding man with a bright future and sky-high ambitions watching football in what should have been his secure apartment.
We needn’t elaborate on the delicate combustibles contained in that scenario. The outrage at Jean’s killing is thoroughly understandable, even if the tragedy occurred outside the police-black-man dynamic that gives it added tension.
How is it that Guyger went to the wrong floor? Was it the newness of it? She’d apparently lived there but a month or so. Was it end-of-shift fatigue? Was it daydreaming, combined with the monotonous uniformity of an apartment facade? Oddly enough, we know a Fort Worth man who absent-mindedly tried the wrong apartment door recently, thankfully to no ill effect.
Regardless of the missteps leading to this fateful encounter, the expeditious employment of deadly force alone is troubling enough. Even if this was an accidental collision between two ill-fated souls, shots rang out in a shoot-first-ask-questions-later fashion that might’ve put any of us at risk. Why? The shooter’s make-up? Her training? Racial bias? Overwork?
A more serious indictment of murder in this case has only swelled the number of questions and their intensity. Do prosecutors have information that might answer them at trial?
A grieving family and an aggrieved community await the answers.