Jury selection got underway on Friday for the upcoming murder trial of a white former Dallas cop who shot and killed an innocent and unarmed Black man in his own home. The proceedings took place exactly one year after prosecutors say Amber Guyger murdered Botham Jean, bittersweet timing as many people were anxious to see the trial begin.
And after Friday, those people especially included the lawyers for Jean’s family, who told the Dallas News that they came away from the first day of jury selection feeling optimistic. That was because of the number of potential jurors who responded to the about 4,000 summons that were sent to Dallas County residents.
“We’ve seen more people here than I’ve ever seen in a courtroom responding to jury duty,” renowned civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt said. “There is just a huge response. There are just lines wrapped around the courtroom and that is a promising sight for the family.”
The promise that Merritt referenced was the hopes of Jean’s family that the trial does not move out of Dallas County, a prospect that would all but guarantee fewer Black potential jurors to choose from.
Jean’s mother, Allison Jean, recently spoke about that and other concerns she had leading up to the trial. In addition to possibly having the defense team’s change of venue request granted, Allison Jean said she was tempering her expectations for justice to be served during the trial.
“I have no control over it, so I’m not raising my expectations, but I just want to see that there is punishment, that there’s a conviction for murder, and the corresponding punishment that goes along with it,” she said. “That’s all I’m looking for.”
District Judge Tammy Kemp, a Black woman, has delayed her ruling on a change of venue motion, writing 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.”
There was already at least one hint from local law enforcement that it was preparing for a potential acquittal, something that to the average person would seem unfathomable considering the uniquely egregious circumstances in the defenseless shooting.
Orders reportedly came down from the Dallas Police Department’s top brass last week that no officers will be given any additional time off until the trial ends. But it was another order given to the ranks that could be interpreted as the expectations of an acquittal.
“Detectives were also told to have their uniforms, gas masks, helmets and other gear ready,” WFAA reported, citing “separate memos” from department higher-ups.
The messages taken together — no more time off and get your equipment “ready” — could be a signal that Dallas police leadership were not only preparing for Guyger to be found not guilty, but also for a potential riot in the aftermath of an acquittal.
On the night of Sept. 6, 2018, 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 actual trial’s start date was scheduled for Sept. 23.