Monday morning marked day one of the trial for a case that captivated the nation one year ago. Former Dallas, Texas police officer Amber Guyger, 31, who is white, is accused of murdering 26-year-old Botham Jean, a black resident in her apartment complex, after allegedly thinking he was an intruder after mistaking his apartment for her own.
A large crowd gathered outside of the Frank Crowley Courts Building in Dallas hoping to get seats to witness the Guyger trail. Many also gathered peacefully to honor Jean, according to CBS Dallas, and to show his family support.
“Amber Guyger shot an unarmed man in his home who was doing no harm to anybody and there will be nothing in law that you will find that justifies her in doing this,” prosecutor Jason Hermus said during his opening statements.
Guyger is accused of shooting and killing Jean on Sept. 6, 2018. She told investigators that following a double shift, she went into Jean’s apartment, which was one floor above her own, and saw the door slightly ajar. She fired two shots, one of which hit Jean, who was unarmed, in the torso.
Guyger’s 911 calls were released in April. "I thought it was my apartment," she told the 911 dispatcher at least 19 times. A neighbor, Ronnie Babbs, caught some of the aftermath on cellphone video, which showed Guyger pacing and paramedics applying first aid to Jean as they pushed him to an ambulance on a gurney.
Protests erupted once news broke of the circumstances in Jean’s death with many claiming the shooting was racially motivated. Many also criticized the Dallas Police Department for not arresting Guyger that night and for serving a search warrant on Jean’s home after he died. Guyger was later terminated by the Dallas Police Department and charged with manslaughter, a charge that was later upgraded to murder. She plead not guilty to the charges.
“The family has no doubt in their mind that she shot Botham because she saw a black man and she thought, 'criminal,'" Ben Crump, one of the attorneys for the Jean family, told NPR earlier this month.
Jean, a St. Lucia native, was working as an accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers prior to his death. Family members mentioned that he was a singer who was very involved in his local church and beloved by many. Prosecutors said that right before Guyger entered his apartment, he was sitting on his couch eating vanilla ice cream.
"My family and I have only been asking for a fair hearing for my son," Jean's mother, Allison, said at a press conference just days after he was killed. "My son's life matters. 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 lost."
Following the shooting, the Jean family filed a lawsuit against the city of Dallas alleging that the former officer used excessive force. NPR reported that the civil case was put on hold until the conclusion of the criminal trial.
Since Guyger was charged, prosecutors and Guyger’s defense attorneys were put under gag order, according to NBC News, but legal experts surmised that prosecutors would focus on her state of mind at the time of the shooting, while Guyger’s defense would hinder on the argument that she made a mistake with no ill intent.
“Amber Guyger reasonably believed she was in her apartment, that she had no choice but to use her gun to keep from dying,” her defense attorney Robert Rogers said during his opening statements.
Though her defense strategy has not been confirmed, Guyger’s attorneys made several attempts to swing the trial in her favor. Early in the proceedings, they attempted to move the location of the trial to a more conservative and predominantly white suburb claiming there had been too much news about the case for her to have a fair trial at the county courthouse. During the first day of the trial, they attempted to motion for a mistrial after claiming that Dallas County DA John Creuzot did an interview this week, in violation of a gag order issued by the judge, and they tried to prevent prosecution from allowing text messages between Guyger and her partner, for whom she had a sexual relationship with, to be admissible. Judge Tammy Kemp denied all of these attempts.
Guyger would face life in prison if convicted.
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