Dallas District Court Judge Tammy Kemp ruled on Monday against a change of venue from defense attorneys for Amber Guyger, the disgraced former police officer who is accused of murder for forcing her way into Botham Jean‘s apartment and killing him last year. The ruling to keep the trial in Dallas came late Monday afternoon after more than a week of speculation that the trial would be moved to a neighboring county with a less diverse — read: whiter — population.
The jury was selected with Guyger in court on Friday, but until Monday afternoon it was unclear where the trial would be held. Earlier in the day, Guyger’s defense tactics became clearer when it was reported the fired cop’s attorneys planned to argue she was innocent of murder because she only committed what they called a “mistake of fact.” That “mistake of fact was supposed to excuse the fact that Guyger, who at that point was a police officer trained to discern between actual and perceived threats, implausibly and purportedly mistook Jean’s apartment for hers.
Jean’s family’s lawyers expressed their optimism on the first day of jury selection when they marveled at the number of potential jurors who responded to summonses. That overwhelming response, they said at the time, was a positive indication that the trial would remain in Dallas.
“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 Sept. 7. “There is just a huge response. There are just lines wrapped around the courtroom and that is a promising sight for the family.”
Had the trial been moved, it most likely would have taken place in a suburban county that, according to statistics, would have provided a less diverse jury pool than in Dallas. It was unclear as of Monday what the racial makeup of the jurors who were selected on Friday.
Kemp, a Black woman, had previously 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.”
While prosecutors likely breathed a sigh of relief with Kemp’s ruling Monday, there was the apparent suggestion from local law enforcement that it was preparing for a potential acquittal. 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.