Trial Begins In Case Of Former Dallas Police Officer Who Killed Unarmed Black Man

Sep 23, 2019
Originally published on September 23, 2019 7:09 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In Dallas, the murder trial of former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger is underway. Guyger, who's white, is charged with shooting 26-year-old Botham Jean in his living room. He was black. She says she entered his apartment by mistake, thinking it was her own. Whether or not Guyger's decision to shoot the unarmed black man was a reasonable mistake will be a key question for the jury. NPR's Wade Goodwyn is at the courthouse and joins us now.

Hi, Wade.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Hello.

SHAPIRO: The prosecution and defense gave their opening statements today. And in this case, another of an officer killing a black man, there are some very unusual aspects. Tell us about it.

GOODWYN: It is a bizarre case, and the verdict's going to turn on whether the jury believes that the mistakes that Amber Guyger made that night, which ended up with Botham Jean dead in his own living room, were the kind of mistakes that any reasonable person might make. You know, the two of them were neighbors. She lived one floor down directly below his apartment. She was coming off a 13-hour shift. It was about 10 o'clock. And when Guyger parked her pickup in the garage, she parked on the fourth floor instead of the third.

Here's lead prosecutor Jason Hermus describing to the jury the errors that Guyger proceeds to make from that moment on.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JASON HERMUS: She walks past 16 different apartments and fails to register the number four on any single one of them. In front of Botham's apartment is this extremely obvious, bright-red floor mat right in front of his door. I want to reiterate Amber Guyger had no floor mat.

GOODWYN: There's another detail I think is important. And that's while Amber Guyger was in uniform, she wasn't on duty, so she's a private citizen when she's trespassing into Jean's apartment. And this is where fate was particularly cruel. These apartment doors - they're heavy metal doors that close hard. They're on a spring. But that night, Jean's door didn't latch when it slammed shut. So that's why Guyger was able to get in. The door was unlatched when she put her key fob in the lock.

SHAPIRO: Is there any evidence that the two of them knew each other before this deadly encounter?

GOODWYN: Yeah, that's a really good question, and the answer is no. There's no evidence they'd ever met before, and both sides agree they were complete strangers.

SHAPIRO: Well, what was the message from the defense attorney? What did they have to say in that opening statement?

GOODWYN: Well, Robert Rogers, the defense attorney, told a vivid story that emphasized how Guyger made a series of mistakes that anybody could've made. He started by talking about how confusing the parking garage was - no numbers on the girders. He tried to explain that the unusual landmarks in the fourth-floor hallway and then the red mat in front of Jean's door were things that could have easily been missed by, you know, a tired officer.

And then he told a version of Guyger entering Jean's apartment - that she's confused when the door swings open without turning the handle. She sees Jean, and then the defense attorney described the young man as acting aggressively, moving toward the officer as though to attack her, yelling, hey, hey. And Rogers said in that moment, Guyger so feared for her life that she had no choice but to shoot him.

Her lawyer referred to Jean as a big man, but he made no reference to the fact that he was black. Rogers said it was only after Botham Jean lay there shot in the heart that the officer looked around and realized she was in the wrong apartment and that she'd made a tragic mistake.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Wade Goodwyn in Dallas.

Thank you.

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