Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger Expresses Deep Remorse In Murder Trial

Sep 28, 2019
Originally published on September 28, 2019 6:52 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now to Dallas, where the murder trial of former police officer Amber Guyger continued today. Geiger shot and killed her neighbor, Botham Jean, a year ago as he sat in his living room eating a bowl of ice cream. Guyger took the stand yesterday. NPR's Wade Goodwyn is covering the trial, and he's with us now. Wade, thanks so much for joining us.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: It's my pleasure.

MARTIN: So a lot of people probably know the details of this but I'm going to assume that some don't, so I'm going to ask you to briefly tell us what happened on the night of Sept. 6 of last year.

GOODWYN: Sure. So here's what happened. Amber Guyger was coming off a long police duty shift, 13 hours. It was just about 10 o'clock at night when she got to her apartment complex. She was somewhat distracted. She'd been talking on the phone with her partner with whom she was also having a romantic relationship. And she parked on the fourth floor instead of the third. So that meant she walked down the hallway to Botham Jean's door. She put her key in the lock, but the door was not locked. She says the door pushed open. She actually testified that she heard Jean inside while she was still out in the hallway. She pulled her weapon. She says she yelled at him to show his hands, and then she shot him through the heart.

MARTIN: So I don't think those facts have really been in dispute. So what did Amber Guyger say in her testimony yesterday?

GOODWYN: Well, I think the main point the defense wanted to get across to the jury was that Guyger felt deep remorse for killing Jean. And under questioning from the lawyer, here is some sound of her breaking down on the stand.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMBER GUYGER: I felt like a piece of crap. And I asked God for forgiveness. And I hate myself every single day. I wish he was the one with the gun and he killed me. I never wanted to take an innocent person's life.

GOODWYN: Now, during the prosecution's cross-examination, Guyger testified that she did indeed intend to Botham Jean when she saw him standing there inside what she thought was her apartment. And prosecutors were able to get her to concede that when she first heard him, she could have taken cover in the hallway and called for backup. And then, in fact, that's what her police training dictated that she should have done.

MARTIN: So given the fact that Amber Guyger has admitted she shot at Botham Jean, intending to kill him, what are the issues the jury must decide in this case?

GOODWYN: Well, the defense is arguing a legal concept called a mistake of fact. This defense hinges on whether the error was a reasonable one any person could make so. I'll make both sides quickly for. The defense, they argue Guyger was exhausted from a long shift. She'd parked on the wrong floor, so therefore she had good reason to believe that she was entering her apartment. The prosecution points to the large red doormat in front of Botham Jean's door. So how did she not know that that wasn't her door? Finally, she shot Jean within seconds of entering that unit. They're going to say she should have retreated. She could have called for backup, and therefore her killing of Jean was unreasonable.

MARTIN: And, Wade, let me raise the obvious. Amber Guyger is white. Botham Jean was black. Is race a factor in this trial at all?

GOODWYN: Well, race has not overtly been present. Guyger wasn't on duty when she killed Jean for example. You know, she's part of a specially trained unit that backs up Dallas SWAT. And that means encountering and arresting potentially violent suspects, African American and all other races, as part of what she does for a living. It raises the question - when she saw a young black man, did that contribute to her mistaken impression that he was a criminal? Had she seen a woman or a white man, might that have given her pause just for a second to reconsider her perception of the situation before she pulled that trigger? It's hard to know exactly with jury alternates, but it's believed that at least half the jury are people of color.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Wade Goodwyn from Dallas. Wade, thank you so much.

GOODWYN: You're quite welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.