Prove me wrong. That was essentially the message a judge told defense lawyers who claim they need to move a murder trial for a white former police officer who killed an unarmed Black man in his own home in order to secure an impartial jury.
State District Judge Tammy Kemp, who is presiding over the trial that will decide the fate of Amber Guyger — the former Dallas cop who shot Botham Shem Jean after illegally entering his apartment last year — said the judicial process needs to play out instead of expecting her to make a hasty decision.
On Monday, Kemp delayed ruling on a change of venue motion filed by the defense last month. Instead, Kemp wrote in a separate ruling that she would only decide on changing the venue once the process of questioning prospective jurors is “completed or it becomes apparent” during the interviews “that a fair and impartial jury cannot be selected in Dallas County due to the pervasive publicity in this case.”
That last sentence seemed to imply that Kemp still believes that “a fair and impartial jury” can still be selected in Dallas County. The location of the trial is key to both the defense and the prosecution because of how much race factors into the case.
Guyger, who is white, killed Jean, who was unarmed and Black, setting off a racial firestorm that has continued since that fateful September night last year. Dallas County is nearly 24 percent Black and Dallas the city is 24 percent Black. The working logic is that Black people would be more sympathetic to Jean’s death, something the defense wants to avoid by moving the trial to other neighboring, whiter counties where the chances of Black jurors are much lower.
Despite an implausible excuse — Guyger said she thought she was in her own apartment and suspected Jean of being a burglar before killing him in a split second — for a shooting that appeared to be indefensible, Guyger’s lawyers said just last week that “the defendant will argue that her use of deadly force was justified as deadly force in self-defense.”
The defense team wasn’t the only group that wanted to make sure Guyger got a “fair” trial. Local media in Dallas has produced a host of news articles and editorials about the same thing, which could suggest news outlets already have a preferred outcome.
On the night of Sept. 6, Guyger claimed that following a long day on the job as a Dallas police officer, she somehow mistook his apartment for her own and, after ordering Jean not to move, shot him twice before realizing the error of her ways. Her story was met with doubt because of a number of factors, including and especially her assertion that Jean’s door was ajar. Videos posted on social media by neighbors appeared to show that apartment doors in the building shut automatically after being released, an indication that Guyger might have lied about that.
In addition to inconsistencies in her alibis, which have changed several times, Dallas police, of which Guyger was a member for five years before being fired, appeared to be helping to cover up the shooting for their colleague. The department was accused of allowing Guyger enough time to scrub her social media accounts and get her story straight before turning herself in three days after killing Jean. It also gave Guyger enough time to move out of her apartment, which was never searched by police despite five warrants allowing them to do so.
The trial is scheduled to begin exactly one year after Guyger gunned down the innocent Jean in his own apartment.