Jury Selection Begins In Trial Of Former Dallas Police Officer Who Shot Neighbor

Sep 6, 2019
Originally published on September 6, 2019 9:14 am
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Jury selection is underway in the trial of a former Dallas police officer, Amber Guyger. One year ago, Officer Guyger was off duty when she says she mistakenly entered her neighbor's apartment, thinking it was her apartment, and shot 26-year-old Botham Jean dead in his living room. Guyger has been fired from the Dallas Police Department, and she is going to be tried for Jean's murder. NPR's Wade Goodwyn has the story.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Thirty-one-year-old Amber Guyger was coming off a double shift the night she killed Botham Jean. Guyger lived on the third floor of a modern apartment building, but on this night, she mistakenly parked on the fourth floor. She was weary, still in uniform, as she walked down a well-lit interior hallway to Jean's apartment exactly above her own.

PAUL COGGINS: He is in his house, and he is where he's ought to be, not doing anything wrong.

GOODWYN: Paul Coggins is the former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas here in Dallas. Coggins says nobody knows for certain how Amber Guyger got inside Jean's apartment. She says his door was ajar, so she pushed it open. It was dark inside, and she saw a man in the living room. The off-duty officer pulled her service revolver and shot Jean in the chest while a football game played on TV.

(SOUNDBITE OF 911 CALL)

CARLA: Dallas 911, this is Carla (ph). What is your emergency?

AMBER GUYGER: Hi, this is an off-duty officer. Can I get - I need EMS.

GOODWYN: Guyger says she turned on the lights, and that's when she realized she wasn't in her apartment. She calls 911. The audio was obtained by Dallas TV station WFAA. During the call, Guyger's voice is panicked, breathless.

(SOUNDBITE OF 911 CALL)

GUYGER: I'm an off-duty officer. I thought I was in my apartment, and I shot a guy thinking that he was - thinking it was my apartment.

GOODWYN: As she describes what happened, Guyger appears to realize how bad it sounds. I'm screwed, she says into her cellphone, only not using the word screwed. More than 20 times, she repeats, I thought it was my apartment. Near the end, she adds one final detail, laying the foundation upon which her defense will almost certainly be built. I'm so tired, she tells the dispatcher.

Attorney Paul Coggins says that while a civilian might not have realized the 911 call was being taped, Officer Guyger certainly did.

COGGINS: And I'm also expecting the prosecutor to focus on the fact, this is an officer who's going to be aware that this is tape-recorded. So if there are statements that are favorable to her, they may have been put on there intentionally by her knowing that she's made a huge, huge error here and is trying to color it.

BEN CRUMP: You know, black people in America are killed by police in some of the most unbelievable ways.

GOODWYN: Ben Crump is one of the attorneys for Botham Jean's family.

CRUMP: The family has no doubt in their mind that she shot Botham because she saw a black man, and she thought, criminal.

GOODWYN: The key elements of the case aren't in dispute. The question the jury must decide is, was this an accident or murder? Jean, who hailed from St. Lucia, was an up-and-coming associate at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Dallas and a leader in his local church.

When Guyger was not arrested for several days, Jean's family was outraged. The question of whether Guyger is getting preferential treatment is now front and center. And Botham Jean's mother, Allison, has made it her mission to get justice for her son.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALLISON JEAN: At 26 years old, he had done so much. So if you extrapolate what he could have done had he reached my age then you would have seen how much I have lost. So I'm calling on the Dallas officials, whether it be the DA's office - I don't know the Dallas system - please, give me justice for my son.

GOODWYN: Amber Guyger's defense team has asked Judge Tammy Kemp to move the trial out of Dallas County to one of Dallas's whiter, more conservative suburbs. But Judge Kemp has decided the court will try to seat a Dallas jury first before she rules on whether or not to grant the defense's change of venue motion. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.