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Case against former Dallas officer who fatally shot her neighbor heads to jury

Botham Jean's family launches foundation

A Dallas police officer's belief that she was in her own apartment when she fatally shot a neighbor in his home is "absurd," a prosecutor said during closing arguments at the officer's murder trial. Assistant District Attorney Jason Fine said Monday that Amber Guyger was "an intruder" in Botham Jean's home when she killed him last September.

The jury heard closing arguments from attorneys for the prosecution and the defense Monday. They began deliberations that afternoon, but did not reach a verdict. They will resume deliberations early Tuesday.

Dallas Officer Mistaken Apartment
Fired Dallas police Officer Amber Guyger becomes emotional on the stand as the defense begins their case in her murder trial Friday, September 27, 2019. Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News/Pool

Guyger, who is white, tearfully testified last week that she mistook Jean's apartment for her own after a long shift. Speaking publicly for the first time about the events of that night, she said she feared someone had broken in and that she opened fire using her service weapon when a silhouetted figure walked toward her in the dark apartment.

In her testimony Friday, Guyger, 31, repeatedly apologized for killing Jean, who was black.

"I hate that I have to live with this every single day of my life and I ask God for forgiveness and I hate myself every single day," she said as she looked across the courtroom at Jean's family.

Guyger should have known she was in the wrong apartment, Fine said Monday, calling her claims "garbage." He said the case comes down to what is reasonable and what is "absurd."

"It's not a mistake. It's a series of unreasonable decisions," Fine said.

Prosecutors said Jean, who grew up in the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia, was unarmed and eating a bowl of vanilla ice cream in his living room when Guyger killed him. Fine said self-defense shouldn't apply because Jean posed no threat.

hermus.jpg
Dallas County Assistant District Attorney Jason Hermus holds a picture of Botham Jean as he delivers closing arguments in the murder trial of Amber Guyger, the former officer accused in Jean's death CBS DFW

"He's not gonna throw the ice cream at her and kill her, he's not gonna throw the spoon at her and kill her," Fine told the jury. "He's sitting there the same as y'all are right now."

Assistant District Attorney Jason Hermus argued that Guyger could have chosen other, non-violent options if she believed there was an intruder in an apartment, such as taking up a defensive position outside the door and calling for backup. But instead, he said Guyger made the decision to kill Jean.

"For Amber Guyger, Mr. Jean was dead before that door ever opened," Hermus said.

Jurors can weigh whether Guyger committed manslaughter if they can't reach a unanimous decision over whether she is guilty of murder, a judge said. The panel will also be allowed to consider Texas' so-called "Castle Doctrine" after the judge overruled the prosecution's attempt to keep it out of jury instructions. 

Texas' self-defense statute allows for a person to use force when they reasonably believe it's "immediately necessary" to protect themselves against another person's use of unlawful force. The so-called Castle Doctrine, which is similar to "Stand Your Ground" laws in other states, allows such force to be used "in the protection of a home, vehicle or other property if someone attempts to forcibly enter or remove an individual from the premises," according to the Texas Penal Code.

Botham Jean, Amber Guyger
Amber Guyger, right, and Botham Jean.   AP

Fine told the jury the statute shouldn't apply to Guyger because she was intruding into Jean's apartment.

"[Jean] has the right to shoot that person under the Castle Doctrine, not the other way around," Fine said. 

The judge also allowed jurors to be instructed on Texas' "mistake of fact" statute, a defense based on a person forming a "reasonable belief" based on a mistake that negates "the kind of culpability required for commission of the offense." 

In a closing statement, defense attorney Toby Shook accused prosecutors of attempting to appeal to the jury's emotions, but asked them to review the evidence "coolly and calmly" and apply it to the law.

He emphasized testimony from a Texas ranger that many others in the same apartment complex had mistakenly gone to the wrong apartment. He said the state failed to prove that Guyger's belief that Jean was an intruder in her own apartment was unreasonable and that "the law recognizes that mistakes can be made." 

He argued that Jean was coming towards Guyger when she opened fire, not getting off his couch as prosecutors suggested.

"A wonderful human being has lost his life, but the evidence shows it's just a tragedy — a horrible, horrible tragedy," Shook said.

Defense attorney Robert Rogers blasted the prosecution for highlighting Guyger's sexual relationship with her married police partner, Martin Rivera. Prosecutors have said Guyger had been exchanging explicit texts with Rivera the day she shot Jean and was distracted by a phone conversation with Rivera when she parked on the building's fourth floor, where Jean lived directly above her, rather than the third floor where she lived.
 
Rogers said prosecutors were pointing to "sexting and speculation" in order to distract the jury and that Guyger's exchanges with Rivera had nothing to do with the events that led to Jean's death.
 
"You can hate her, you can be angry with her, but you can't convict her," Rogers said. 

Speaking of the jurors, family attorney Lee Merritt told reporters Monday, "What they take back to that jury room, in our opinion, is the decision of the value of black life."

"How far as a society are we willing to allow police to exercise their authority, their brutal authority?" Merritt said. "Botham was relaxing, was reclining on his couch when he was killed. Those facts are undisputed, and now this jury will make a determination whether or not his life mattered."

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