Prosecution Rests in Trial Over Fatal Apartment Mix-Up

Fired Dallas police officer Amber Guyger confers with her attorney before proceedings in her murder trial on Wednesday. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool)

DALLAS (CN) – The prosecution rested Thursday in the murder trial of fired Dallas police officer Amber Guyger after disputing claims that she tried to help the unarmed black man she shot after mistaking his apartment for her own.

The fourth day of the closely followed trial consisted of prosecutors calling a quick succession of investigators and crime scene analysts who gave meticulous testimony regarding the crime scene, including ballistics results, the location of shell casings from Guyger’s service pistol, and how shoes worn by Botham Jean, 26, were moved.

Guyger, 31, is charged with murder after she erroneously parked on the fourth floor of the South Side apartments near downtown on Sept. 7, 2018. She mistook Jean’s apartment for her apartment that was 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.

Critics argue Jean’s killing is the latest example of unarmed young, black men being unnecessarily killed by police. Guyger’s supporters say the killing was a tragic accident, that she had no idea what Jean’s race was before she opened fire.

Prosecutors emphasized still images of Guyger taken in her uniform after the shooting, pointing out that she could have used her Taser or pepper spray to subdue Jean instead of shooting him. They also pointed out that her blue rubber gloves were unused and that there was no sign of blood on her uniform, disputing reports that she had tried to save Jean after realizing her mistake.

The core of the prosecution’s case has been portraying Guyger as callous and uncaring as she was alone with the gravely injured Jean. Prosecutors have shown the jury body camera video and images of Guyger texting on her cellphone in the hallway outside Jean’s apartment while first responders inside tried to save him.

On cross-examination, Guyger’s attorneys were able to get police witnesses to admit that they would also pull their guns, not their Taser or pepper spray, if confronted with what they believed to be a deadly threat. The defense argues that Guyger made a reasonable “mistake of fact” in entering Jean’s apartment due to inadequate signage and a confusing floor plan and that justifies her use of self defense in shooting what she thought was a deadly threat.

Officer Tu Minh Nguyen explained on the witness stand how Jean’s belongings were moved by first responders, that he moved the shoes near the kitchen in order to elevate Jean’s feet, and that Jean was still alive when they arrived but “very faint.” Nguyen’s graphic body camera footage was played in court, which showed Jean’s face as he was dying.

The defense immediately moved for a directed verdict Thursday when the prosecution rested its case, which Dallas County District Judge Tammy Kemp swiftly rejected. Guyger’s attorneys argued the state failed to prove a “culpable state of mind” required for murder. The defense also argued the prosecution failed to prove “recklessness” required for the lesser charge of manslaughter, nor the required criminal negligence for the least serious charge of criminal negligence.

Guyger’s attorneys are expected to recall Texas Ranger David Armstrong, the lead investigator into the shooting who gave explosive testimony away from the jury Wednesday that he believed Guyger committed no crime. The judge sustained an objection against the testimony, as prosecutors felt it was conclusory and speculative as to Guyger’s state of mind, which is central to their case for murder.

The prosecution has accused Guyger of being distracted by sexually explicit text messages she exchanged with her police partner as she was returning home, causing her to miss obvious indicators that she was entering the wrong apartment, including floor and room signs and a large red doormat at Jean’s front door that Guyger did not have at her front door.

Assistant District Attorney Jason Hermus repeatedly pointed to the differences in their two floors and apartments Thursday, emphasizing how Jean had a painting on his wall while Guyger did not. Prosecutors claim Jean was sitting on his couch in front of his television while eating a bowl of vanilla ice cream when Guyger barged in.

The defense will call its first witness Friday morning. It is expected that Guyger will be called first. Clad in a green dress and dark blue sweater, Guyger was seen being coached and reassured by her counsel in the minutes before Judge Kemp decided to recess for the day.

Defense attorney Robert Rogers, with Lyon Gorsky in Dallas, told the jury during opening statements Monday that Guyger will testify in her own defense.

The trial is expected to last through the end of next week. Guyger faces up to life in prison if convicted. The jury will also have the option of convicting on the lesser charges of manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide.

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