DALLAS (CN) – Fired Dallas police officer Amber Guyger wept on the witness stand during her murder trial Friday, repeatedly apologizing for shooting an unarmed black man in his apartment that she mistook for her own due to his failure to show her his hands and out of fear for her life.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” she said through tears. “I hate that I have to live with this … I feel like a terrible person, like a piece of crap. I hate myself every day, I wish he was the one who killed me.”
Guyger, 31, said she feels tremendous guilt about being able to be with her friends and family, and that she “shot an innocent man who did not deserve it.”
She is charged with murder after she erroneously parked on the fourth floor on Sept. 7, 2018., mistook the apartment of Botham Jean, 26, for her apartment on the third floor, and entered the ajar door before firing into the dark at what she believed was an intruder inside, striking Jean in the chest. Guyger was in her police uniform but was off-duty after working a 15-hour shift.
Wearing a light blue dress and black sweater, Guyger gave short answers and was visibly nervous on the witness stand Friday. She was the first defense witness called after prosecutors rested their case Thursday after four days of testimony.
Guyger said Jean’s door was cracked open as she put her keycard into the door’s slot and she heard “someone walking” inside the apartment.
“Me putting the card into the slot by itself opened the door, all of this happened in less than two seconds,” she said. “I was scared to death, I thought someone was in my apartment.”
Guyger described how her body froze up, that she felt “pure fear” entering the unlit apartment, comparing it to bracing for a car collision.
“I wanted to find that threat in the apartment, I was scared as … crap,” she said. “I saw this silhouette standing in the back of the apartment by the window.”
Guyger said she drew her service pistol, yelling “let me see your hands, let me see your hands.” This echoes earlier testimony she gave that her police training prioritized seeing a suspect’s hands to eliminate the possibility of a weapon.
She claims Jean kept “pacing back and forth” and was yelling “hey, hey, hey” as he approached her. Guyger said she fired at that point, “scared that he was going to kill me.”
She first noticed she was in the wrong apartment when she saw Jean’s ottoman and the light on Jean’s TV.
“That’s when I realized that I had no idea who this guy is. Everything started spinning and I called 911,” Guyger said. “I kneeled down next to him. I knew I had shot him, I wasn’t sure where I hit him. I started doing compressions with my left hand while I was on the phone with 911.”
Guyger said she did not do CPR for very long and she had not done it on anyone before. She explained she stopped rendering aid because the dispatcher asked her where she was and she stepped outside to determine what room she was in.
On cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Jason Hermus aggressively questioned Guyger as to why she disregarded her police training, saying she did not retreat from the apartment and call for backup before deciding to shoot Jean. She admitted she did not remember what she was taught in a police de-escalation class in the spring of 2018.
Guyger said yes when Hermus asked her if she intended to kill Jean when she shot him. Her intent is the key element the prosecution must satisfy to secure a murder conviction, a standard that goes beyond the recklessness required to secure a lesser conviction for manslaughter.
She testified during direct examination that being a police officer was her “only goal” as a child and she was thrilled to become “the only thing that I have ever wanted to be.” She talked about growing up with two siblings and a single mother in east Arlington, and said she studied at Tarrant County College and would participate in ride-alongs with Arlington police.
Defense attorney Robert Rogers, with Lyon Gorsky in Dallas, focused his early questioning on Guyger’s relationship with her police partner, Martin Rivera. Prosecutors accuse Guyger of being distracted that night by sexually charged messages she exchanged with the married Rivera, saying the sexting caused her to miss several obvious cues that she was entering the wrong apartment and that her decision to shoot was unreasonable.
Guyger testified they had a sexual relationship and worked together at least eight hours every day, adding that she knew it was wrong and “wasn’t going to go anywhere.” She also denied there were concrete plans for Rivera to come over that night.
She described her state of mind as she walked down the hallway to Jean’s apartment as “just ready to go home.” The defense has argued the text messages are a non-issue and Guyger made a reasonable “mistake of fact” as to being on the wrong floor and apartment, citing poor signage and confusing floor plans.
Dallas County District Judge Tammy Kemp called a brief recess after Guyger became distraught when her attorneys asked her demonstrate to the jury how she was carrying her armored vest, lunch box and backpack as she approached Jean’s front door. The testimony tried to explain why she missed the very obvious red mat at Jean’s door that Guyger did not have at her door.
The prosecution challenged Guyger as to why she did not use the traumatic bleeding aid and other first aid supplies in her backpack immediately after she shot Jean. She testified that it did not cross her mind.
Jean’s family sat expressionless through Guyger’s testimony, occasionally looking down and shaking their heads.
Guyger faces up to life in state prison if convicted of murder. The jury will also consider convicting her on lesser charges of manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide.
Testimony will resume Saturday morning. The case is expected to go to the jury for deliberations next week.