Jury Selection Begins For Ex-Dallas Police Officer Who Shot Man In His Own Home
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Now to a court case in Dallas. Jury selection starts tomorrow in the murder trial of former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger. She admits fatally shooting 26-year-old Botham Jean as he watched a football game in his own apartment.
She says she mistook his apartment for her own. Both lived in the same apartment complex just a floor apart. Guyger is white. Jean was black. And the case has raised questions about whether law enforcement gave her preferential treatment.
NPR's Wade Goodwyn is following the case and joins us from Dallas.
WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Hello.
SHAPIRO: The case made headlines around the country because the facts were frankly astonishing. Talk about what happened that night.
GOODWYN: So it's around 10 o'clock at night, and Dallas police officer Amber Guyger is coming off a double shift. She's still in her uniform, but she's off duty and heading home. But instead of parking on the third floor of the garage of her apartment building, she parks on the fourth. She walks down the hallway. It's a well-lit interior space. She stops at Jean's door, which is directly above where her apartment would be if she were to - were on the right floor.
Now, here's one of the unusual details in this case. In front of Botham Jean's door, there's a bright red door mat, a big semicircle that he put there specifically so his friends would know which door was his. And there's nothing like that in front of Guyger's apartment. So she doesn't even have a doormat at all.
Anyway, she's standing on this red rug, and she says she goes to insert her electronic key fob when the door pushes open. She walks in. It's dark. She sees a man inside. She pulls her service revolver and shoots Jean in the chest. Then she says she turns on the light, realizes she's in the wrong apartment and calls 911.
SHAPIRO: Now, even though she admitted to the shooting, she was not arrested that night. Instead, she was allowed to go home for several days. Explain that.
GOODWYN: Yeah. The black community in Dallas and in Botham Jean's home country of St. Lucia were astounded that Guyger wasn't arrested immediately. They said that it - had it been Jean who'd intruded into Amber Guyger's apartment and shot her to death, he'd have been taken to jail immediately. You know, Jean was a well-regarded associate at Price Waterhouse Cooper here in Dallas, a leader in his church. He told people he hoped to return to St. Lucia someday and enter public service.
So as Jean's funeral is being held, Dallas law enforcement makes public evidence that a handful of marijuana was found in his apartment, and that provoked a furious response from Jean's mother and a backlash from the black community in general, who accused the police of trying to smear the victim.
SHAPIRO: Now, Guyger has been fired from the police department and charged with murder. Since both sides agree on the general facts of the shooting, what is the central legal question in this case?
GOODWYN: Well, there's reason to believe that Guyger's defense team will argue several things - first, that the killing was a mistake of fact. It was an accident. They'll say the officer believed herself to be in a dangerous situation. She thought she was acting in self-defense, even though that turned out to be wrong. She's in uniform. She's trained to react. And this was all a terrible, tragic accident and that she shouldn't go to prison for it.
But prosecutors are going to counter, look; she might have been in uniform, but she wasn't on duty. She wasn't responding to a dispatch call. When she shoots Jean, she's a civilian who's essentially broken into the man's house. They'll tell the jury she had no protected legal status in that moment, that her behavior wasn't reckless. It wasn't manslaughter. She's admitted she purposely drew her weapon to shoot Jean and then did so. And that's murder, prosecutors are going to argue.
SHAPIRO: And is there still any question about whether this will take place in Dallas, or is that settled?
GOODWYN: No, it's not. The defense team would like to move it out of Dallas County to one of several whiter, more conservative Dallas suburbs. But the jury - judge believes she's going to be able to seat an unprejudiced jury in Dallas, and she's going to wait until after voir dire to rule on the defense's motion for a change of venue.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Wade Goodwyn, thank you.
GOODWYN: It's my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.