DALLAS — The former Dallas police officer accused of gunning down an unarmed neighbor after mistakenly going into his apartment instead of her own last year was distracted by thoughts of a sexual rendezvous with her partner on the force later that night, prosecutors argued Monday.
Opening statements in the murder trial of Amber Renee Guyger, 31, got off to an explosive, but delayed start, at the Frank Crowley Courts Building in downtown Dallas, less than 2 miles from the South Side Flats, the apartment complex where Guyger fatally shot Botham Shem “Bo” Jean on Sept. 6, 2018, inside his apartment.
Guyger told investigators she shot Jean, a 26-year-old accountant and talented church singer who lived in an apartment directly beneath hers, after seeing him in what she thought was her own home and believing him to be a burglar, according to her arrest affidavit. She fired twice, striking him in the chest.
Jean could be heard moaning in pain in a 911 call Guyger made following the shooting, in which she told a police dispatcher a total of 19 times that she thought she had entered her own apartment. Swearing frequently, she appeared to speak to the dying man on the floor several times.
Listen to Amber Guyger's 911 call following Botham Jean's shooting below, courtesy of WFAA in Dallas. Warning: The recording contains graphic language.
“Get up man,” Guyger could be heard telling Jean in the recording, which was withheld by authorities but leaked in April to WFAA. “Hey, come on, man.”
The dispatcher reassured Guyger that help was on the way.
“I know, but I’m …,” she said, sounding near tears. “I’m gonna lose my job.”
Guyger, who had been a police officer for four years, expressed concern for her own situation multiple times during the call.
“I’m (expletive),” she said breathlessly at one point. “Oh, my God. I’m sorry.”
The shooting of Jean, who was black, by Guyger further ignited racial tensions throughout Dallas and beyond as Jean's name was added to a growing list of unarmed black men killed by white police officers. Protests and candlelight vigils were held in Jean's name as the public waited to see what, if any, charges Guyger would face in his death.
The former police officer's trial was scheduled to begin at 9 a.m., but opening statements were pushed back until after lunch after Guyger's defense attorneys accused Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot of violating a court-imposed gag order, The Dallas Morning News reported. Creuzot spoke about Guyger's impending trial in a brief interview that aired Sunday night on KDFW.
See Creuzot's brief interview with KDFW below.
In the interview, Creuzot maintained that Guyger committed murder, not manslaughter, when she killed Jean. She was initially charged with the lesser crime, but a grand jury impaneled in November indicted her for murder.
"It seemed to me that people were misinterpreting the facts of the case, and what they meant legally," Creuzot said in the aired clip, which lasted less than two minutes. "And so this issue of manslaughter, that it was manslaughter, I wrote, 'No, this is more appropriately a murder case based on the facts as reported.' I've studied what we have and I feel comfortable that we're going forward on it, but I don't have any idea as to how it will end up."
Judge Tammy Kemp, who is presiding over the case, was visibly angered when she learned of Creuzot’s screen time. Appearing speechless, Kemp turned away from the cameras and spectators for several moments to regain her composure. She then stood and addressed the prosecution and defense attorneys.
“To be clear, on last night, the evening prior to the start of this trial, our elected DA did an interview about this trial?” Kemp asked incredulously, gesturing toward the floor of the courtroom.
Despite her visible frustration, the judge denied the defense’s motion for a mistrial, as well as a renewed change of venue request for the case, which generated international publicity after Jean, a native of the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, was slain. A graduate of Harding University in Arkansas, Jean, who worked for PriceWaterhouseCoopers after graduation, hoped to someday go home and become a politician in his native country.
Instead, his body was flown to St. Lucia a buried in a cemetery by the sea, the News reported.
Kemp reviewed Creuzot's television interview and polled the jurors in chambers on whether they saw the previous night's news broadcast before ruling on the defense motion, ABC News reported. Kemp ordered the jurors, who were chosen prior to the Sunday night broadcast, to be sequestered for the duration of the trial, which is expected to last a couple of weeks.
It was unclear if Creuzot’s TV appearance influenced that decision or if the judge had already planned to keep the jurors in a hotel and away from media coverage of the highly publicized case.
Guyger's alleged sexual relationship with her partner, which prosecutors argued Monday morning to have introduced as evidence, became public knowledge for the first time during opening statements, the News reported. Lead prosecutor Jason Hermus detailed text messages Guyger had sent to Officer Martin Rivera throughout the day of the shooting, including immediately after she shot Jean.
She sent two texts to Rivera while she was on the phone with the 911 dispatcher, as Jean lay alive, but mortally wounded, on his living room floor.
"I need you … hurry," one text read, according to the News.
“I (expletive) up,” the second stated.
Hermus told jurors Guyger was waiting outside the apartment when paramedics and police officers arrived instead of providing first aid to the man she had just shot.
"She should have made it her point of existence to take care of that man," he said, according to the newspaper.
Hermus said Guyger had been texting and talking on the phone with Rivera as she drove home from work and parked -- on the wrong floor -- in the South Side Flats garage, according to the News. They discussed meeting after her shift in texts earlier in the day, at which time Guyger wrote that she was “super horny today,” the prosecutor said.
Just prior to the shooting, she sent Rivera a Snapchat message: “Wanna touch?” Guyger, who was on the phone with Rivera as she parked in the garage, ended that last call at 9:55 p.m., the assistant district attorney said.
Jean had "less than three minutes to live" at that point, Hermus said, according to the News.
Hermus on Monday morning argued that Guyger’s cellphone records, including the text and Snapchat messages, were relevant to the case because they showed her state of mind the night of the shooting. Hermus said the officer, anticipating her evening with her partner, was not paying attention to her surroundings when she got home.
The arrest affidavit in the case states Guyger told investigators she inserted her “unique door key, with an electronic chip,” into the lock of Jean’s door, which she said she found slightly ajar. Guyger said the door opened fully under the force of the key being inserted into the lock.
The apartment interior was nearly dark, she told detectives.
“Believing she had encountered a burglar, which was described as a large silhouette, across the room in her apartment, Guyger drew her firearm,” the affidavit says.
Guyger claimed Jean ignored her verbal commands, at which point she fired at him.
After turning on the lights and calling 911, Guyger returned to the door of the apartment and looked out at the apartment number, the affidavit says. The News reported that each floor of the South Side Flats looks virtually identical, but that a lighted sign at Jean's door identified his apartment as 1478.
Guyger lived in unit 1378, court records show.
Guyger's defense team argued that Guyger, who was tired after working a 14-hour shift, made an "awful and tragic, but innocent" mistake when she fired her gun, the News reported. Attorney Robert Rogers described her as a dedicated law enforcement officer who had dreamed of joining the force since childhood.
Rogers told jurors Guyger was not planning to meet Rivera, with whom the attorney said she’d stopped having sex months before the shooting. He said the texts and messages sent between the two officers were routine flirtation, but that they had moved on from one another as anything other than colleagues.
"What was going through Amber's mind was just, 'I'm going home. I'm done with my day of work. I'm exhausted and I'm going home,'according to the News" Rogers said, according to the News.
Hermus argued, however, that it was not fatigue, but lack of attention that made Guyger fail to spot multiple clues that she was on the fourth floor of the complex instead of the third, where her apartment was, the News said.
“She walks past 16 different apartments and fails to register the number 4 on any one of them,” Hermus said, according to the newspaper.
Guyger failed to note the bright red doormat in front of Jean’s apartment. Guyger’s apartment had nothing but concrete outside her door.
She failed to see an empty spot on Jean’s floor where one of her third-floor neighbors had a large decorative planter in their nearly identical hallway, Hermus said. She also failed to note the smell of marijuana as she entered Jean’s apartment, or the clutter in his home, or the missing table that she kept inside her own entryway.
"For her errors, for her omissions, Bo paid the ultimate price," Hermus said.
Rogers conceded that Guyger missed several visual cues that she was on the wrong floor but told jurors dozens of residents of the complex have reported accidentally parking on the wrong level of the building, the News said. The attorney said his client was moving on “autopilot” when she arrived home after her long shift.
"She's tired, she's almost home; she's walking the same way she's always walked," Rogers said, according to the News.
Once inside, Guyger failed to spot differences in the two apartments because she had “tunnel vision” after the surprise of finding who she thought was a burglar in her unit.
“She’s trying to process this as she’s stepping into her apartment and at the same time, I’m sure Mr. Jean is thinking, ‘What is this person doing? Who is coming into my apartment?’” Rogers said, according to the newspaper. “He’s confused, he’s wondering what’s going on. She’s thinking, ‘Why is this man in my apartment?’”
The defense attorney told jurors Guyger ordered Jean to show his hands, but Jean drowned her out with his own shouts of surprise. Guyger fired her weapon because she believed the intruder, who she saw coming toward her, might also be armed.
"It starts to dawn on her as she approaches Mr. Jean's body what a horrible, horrible mistake she has just made," Rogers said.
He told jurors Guyger did not render aid to Jean because she knew she could not help and believed his best chance was to get paramedics to him as quickly as possible, the News said. She texted Rivera because, as her work partner, he was her “rock” in bad times, the attorney said.
Guyger, who also shot a man in 2017 during an alleged struggle over her Taser, was charged in Jean's death three days after he was killed. She was fired by the police department a few weeks later.
If jurors believe that Guyger made a reasonable mistake, they could find her not guilty, or they could find her guilty of a lesser included charge, such as manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide, the newspaper reported.
"Any time you bring a case against a police officer, it's difficult anywhere in the country because there's so much automatic credibility given to law enforcement officers," Lee Merritt, an attorney representing Jean's loved ones, told ABC News on Sunday. "We're hoping to see a diverse jury that's able to critically analyze testimony from law enforcement officers."
Jean's family, which includes his parents, his brother and his sister, held a prayer vigil on the courthouse steps before going inside Monday morning, the news network reported. His mother, Allison Jean, told CNN she has been preparing herself for the trial by attending therapy sessions near her home in St. Lucia.
She said for months after her son’s slaying, it was difficult to even say his name aloud. Her grief turned to anger in April, when the audio of Guyger’s 911 call was leaked, and she heard the final moments of her middle child’s life.
"The call made me strengthen my view that Amber Guyger is a cold-blooded killer because she was more concerned about losing her job than my son, the value of my son," Allison Jean told the News after hearing the recording. "She does not sound like she was trying to help him at all."
She reiterated those feelings to CNN over the weekend.
"He was really treated like an animal," Allison Jean said.
She told the network she prays for courage for her family, particularly her children, to deal with the trial and accept whatever the outcome might be. She also prays for Guyger “to be truthful,” she said.
"My hope for the trial is for my son to get justice, that the person who inflicted harm on him gets punished for the crime that she committed," Jean said.
Murder is punishable by up to life in prison in Texas. Manslaughter carries a sentence of between two and 20 years.
© 2020 Cox Media Group