A former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger began her trial Sept. 23 for the 2018 killing of an unarmed Black man, Botham Jean, after she allegedly mistook his apartment for her own, believed he was a burglar and shot him.
Guyger is white. She is claiming self-defense. A prosecutor opened by telling a jury Guyger fired shots without making any effort to de-escalate the situation. The defense attorney said the former officer made “innocent mistakes” and genuinely feared for her life.
However, even before both sides made their statements, the defense requested the judge declare a mistrial, because Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot spoke about the case in a television interview that aired the night before. He violated a gag order by speaking to the media, but the judge overruled the motion after watching the interview and asking jurors privately whether they saw it.
The jury will be sequestered for the entire trial, which may last up to two weeks, ABC News reports.
The defense also requested a change of venue for the trial, saying Guyger could not get a fair trial in Dallas County because of the publicity surrounding the case, but a judge rejected the request.
According to Dallas County District Attorney Jason Hermus, Jean, the 26-year-old victim, was sitting in his apartment eating ice cream and watching TV when Guyger came in. He allegedly confronted her, prompting her to fire twice into his chest with no attempt at de-escalating the situation. Hermus said as a police officer, she was trained to handle burglary situations by retreating, taking cover and calling for backup.
Guyger’s apartment was located directly below Jean’s. Hermus said Guyger not only walked past several apartments without realizing she was on the wrong floor, but also did not notice she was standing on a red mat, which she did not have outside of her own apartment.
The defense attorney Robert Rogers argued Guyger was exhausted from working 40 hours in four days and a long overtime shift during which she helped a SWAT team arrest three robbers. Rogers also said the apartment complex had floors and rooms that were not clearly numbered. Additionally, he said, she was aware of the high crime rates in the area and the recent break-ins and car burglaries that had been happening in her apartment complex. Rogers said within seconds, Jean was within 13 feet of Guyger, giving her no time to retreat and making her feel genuinely afraid for her life.
Rogers said Guyger called 911 and repeated at least 22 times that she thought she was in her own apartment.
Jean’s family remembered him as a beloved friend, a dedicated Christian, a good worker and a talented singer. They held a prayer vigil on the courtroom steps prior to entering. The family is also bringing a civil suit against the city of Dallas.
Lee Merritt, who is representing the family in the civil case, told ABC that cases involving law enforcement officers are often difficult to find truly impartial juries for because people automatically assume police are more credible.
Guyger was fired from the Dallas Police Department just two weeks after the shooting occurred. She was arrested and charged with manslaughter at first, but a Dallas County grand jury later indicted her on one count of murder.