The former police officer who illegally entered the home of a Black man before shooting him to death in Dallas last year appeared in court Tuesday as part of a formality before her murder trial was set to begin next month. And while some of the things that took place appeared to be routine, there was one aspect of the proceedings that may have seemed curious to some.
Amber Guyger, who is white, was ultimately fired from the Dallas Police Department after she shot Botham Jean in his own home under the implausible guise that she thought he was a burglar in her apartment. She and her defense attorneys faced off with Dallas prosecutors in front of District Judge Tammy Kemp, the Black woman presiding over the high-profile case.
“Kemp allowed prosecutors to admit several items into evidence, including the firearm Guyger used in the shooting, bullet casings, photographs and an unspecified ‘projectile’ that was recovered through Jean’s autopsy,” the Dallas News reported before continuing: “Prosecutors and Guyger’s defense attorneys stated they did not plan to make references to Guyger’s employment status during the trial.”
It was unclear if that meant that lawyers wouldn’t say that Guyger, 31, was off-duty when she shot Jean, who was just 26 years old when he died. It may have been referring to her getting fired from the Dallas Police Department. Or perhaps both.
While that part may be a bit muddled, Tuesday’s court date made it abundantly clear that Kemp had every intention of trying the case in Dallas instead of granting prosecutors’ request for a change of venue that would arguably increase the probability of fewer prospective minority jurors.
Earlier this month, Kemp delayed ruling on a change of venue motion and wrote in a separate ruling that she would only decide whether a new location was warranted 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 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’s killing of the unarmed Jean set off a racial firestorm that hasn’t let up 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.
Guyger’s lawyers said earlier this month 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 as opposed to the dearth of coverage centered on whether justice will be served for Jean.
Convicting an officer of murder is extremely rare, especially when it comes to the victim being Black. The NYPD officer who used an illegal chokehold to kill Eric Garner was fired Monday as his only true discipline for taking the life of an unarmed Black man. That delayed termination came more than five years after the killing took place in broad daylight. “Since 2005, only 33 law enforcement officers have been convicted of a crime resulting from an on-duty shooting where someone was killed,” NBC News reported. A white police officer in Texas who killed an unarmed Black 15-year-old child after shooting into a car carrying a group of teenagers was found guilty last year, making him only the second police officer in nearly 15 years to be convicted of murder. And still, that cop — Roy Oliver — got a light sentence that will allow the possibility of parole after serving just seven and a half years.
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.