DALLAS (CN) – On the first day of her murder trial, prosecutors accused a white former Dallas cop of being distracted by sexually charged messages with her police partner leading up to her fatally shooting a black neighbor in his own apartment that she mistook for her own.
Assistant District Attorney Jason Hermus told a Dallas County jury Monday that Amber Guyger, 31, worked a 15-hour shift on Sept. 7, 2018, but that she was not as tired as she claims because she spent much of that time at a desk job in a police office building. He claims she was distracted by text and Snapchat messages with fellow cop Martin Rivera that indicate the two were planning a romantic encounter later that night. He cited messages she sent stating “wanna touch” and how “horny” she was.
Hermus accused Guyger of failing to catch several signs that would have prevented the shooting. He held up for jurors the large red floormat that Botham Jean, 26, had placed in front of his door. Guyger had no such doormat at her apartment.
“That failure cost Bo his life,” he said.
Hermus further blasted Guyger for being “selfish” and “only thinking of herself” in the moments after she fired twice at Jean. He said Jean was sitting in front of his TV eating a bowl of vanilla ice cream when Guyger barged in.
“It was the point of her existence to take care of that man,” he said. “But the record shows that while she was alone with a dying Bo, she messaged her partner again stating ‘I need you’ and ‘I fucked up.’”
Hermus added that Jean smoked marijuana and that the smell of the drug in his apartment should have indicated to Guyger that she was in the wrong apartment. He stated several of Guyger’s messages were deleted in the days after the shooting.
Defense attorney Robert Rogers, with Lyon Gorsky in Dallas, strongly denied Guyger was being selfish, portraying her as making a reasonable mistake of fact. He portrayed the shooting as a terrible accident, telling jurors that at least 46 tenants in the South Side apartments south of downtown reported they had experienced entering the wrong apartment due to the building’s confusing floor plan.
“How could that be selfish or evil on Amber Guyger’s part?” he asked. “She reasonably believed she was in her own apartment.”
Free on bond, Guyger wore a blue dress, sat upright and listened attentively. She claims she believed she had entered her own apartment on the third floor, that Jean’s door was ajar in spite of the apartments’ keycard lock system and that she fired her service pistol into the dark at what she believed was an intruder. Still in her uniform at the time, Guyger claims that only after the shooting did she realize she was on the fourth floor and had entered the wrong apartment.
Jean was employed as an accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Dallas. He was a 2016 alumnus of Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas and had grown up in St. Lucia. Several members of his family traveled from the Caribbean country to attend the trial.
Jean’s death has drawn high national interest as critics have deemed it as another example of an unarmed, young, black male being killed by a white police officer. Guyger’s supporters have denied race playing any role in the killing and that she had no idea what Jean’s race was when she pulled the trigger.
Dallas police have faced intense scrutiny in the aftermath, as it took several days for Guyger to be charged with manslaughter due to the Texas Rangers being asked to handle the investigation. She was allowed to remain free in the days after the shooting and was allowed to quietly turn herself in to a suburban jail after being charged, spurring accusations of favoritism.
Guyger was fired three weeks after the shooting. She had served in the department for four years.
Jean’s family later filed a federal lawsuit against the city and Guyger one month later, alleging excessive force and violations of his civil rights.
The charges against Guyger were upgraded to murder three months after the shooting after prosecutors concluded Guyger’s alleged “intent” to kill warranted the higher charge.
Guyger’s attorneys unsuccessfully tried to get the trial moved out of Dallas County, arguing that it is impossible for her to get a fair trial due to the “pervasive, prejudicial and inflammatory” publicity.
Opening statements were briefly delayed after Dallas County District Judge Tammy Kemp became visibly upset at a laptop in the gallery repeatedly blasting loud music and interrupting her questioning of a defense motion seeking to limit the text message evidence, which she later rejected. After a 15-minute recess, the judge reminded the gallery that she has banned cellphones and other electronics in the courtroom for the duration of the trial.
The judge was further annoyed when she was informed that Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot gave a television interview Sunday night about the trial, allegedly in violation of her gag order. She rejected the defense’s motion for mistrial, but only after taking a second recess to watch the interview and quiz individual jurors as to whether they had seen it.
Jean’s sister, Allisa Findley, was called as the prosecution’s first witness. She spoke about her brother’s love of ice cream and how “being in Dallas is hard” because Jean is no longer here.
“I came here looking for closure,” Findley testified. “I am hoping this can be over and done with so our family can finally heal and move on.”
The trial is expected to last two weeks, with jurors sequestered the entire time. Guyger faces up to life in state prison if convicted of murder. Jurors will also have the option of conviction on lesser charges of manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide.