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State of Texas vs. Amber Guyger: Looking Back at Tuesday and Looking Forward to Wednesday

The second day of testimony in former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger's murder trial focused on a 911 call and body cam footage.
The second day of testimony in former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger's murder trial focused on a 911 call and body cam footage.
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The story on Tuesday, the second day of former Dallas Police Department officer Amber Guyger's murder trial, was one of the mundane and the visceral. Cops and apartment managers talked for hours about procedures, floor plans and door locks, drawing the outline of a picture that's yet to come fully into focus. Neighbors and EMTs spoke, too, about gunshots shattering the status quo at a usually quiet apartment complex and trying to revive a dead man, Botham Jean.

Jurors, the ones who will decide Guyger's fate at some point in the next couple of weeks, heard, maybe for the first time, or maybe not, her frantic 911 call after killing Jean.

"I’m an off-duty officer. I thought I was in my apartment and I shot a guy thinking he was, thinking it was my apartment," Guyger said. "I thought it was my apartment. I’m fucked. Oh my God. I’m sorry."

After hearing Guyger in her own words — and an extended effort by prosecutors to show that Guyger received special treatment from her fellow cops after the shooting that was ultimately short-circuited by District Judge Tammy Kemp — those in the courtroom and everyone watching the trial via livestream saw several videos they're unlikely to forget.

Police body camera footage from the night of the shooting showed cops frantically trying to save Jean's life to no avail. Later, a walk-through of Jean's apartment captured on video by Texas Rangers showed an apartment that looked like any 20-something man's apartment. There was a half-eaten bowl of ice cream and crumbled chocolate chip cookies on the coffee table, sitting in front of a newly purchased 50-inch TV.

Jean's neighbors, a software engineer and a high school chemistry teacher and football coach who once played at the University of South Florida, all described the ways their lives had intersected with Jean's and Guyger's on Sept. 6, 2018.

Joshua Brown, the football player, said he heard two people talking over one another from his apartment across the hall from Jean's that night. Seconds later, he heard two shots. Neither Brown nor the other two neighbors to take the stand heard Guyger issue any loud commands like "Show me your hands!," they said.

At one point, Kemp called a brief recess because Brown was overcome by emotion.

The thing that was hard to see anywhere amid Tuesday's emotion and minutiae was what any of it had to do with Guyger's defense: that a reasonable mistake led her to believe Jean's apartment was her own, and that another reasonable mistake led her to believe Jean was an intruder who threatened her safety. Anything that happened after the shooting — the prosecution has repeatedly suggested that Guyger was worried about herself, rather than Jean, after the shooting — doesn't speak directly to the key questions surrounding her guilt.

"(The prosecution) hasn't gotten anywhere close to disproving mistake-of-fact beyond a reasonable doubt," Dallas criminal defense attorney Pete Schulte told the Observer on Tuesday. "There's just no way ... I think their strategy is to try to get the jury to hate her so much that they convict her."

Following Tuesday's testimony, the biggest area yet to be fully explored by Assistant District Attorney Jason Hermus and the rest of the team prosecuting Guyger is the shooting itself. In his opening argument, Hermus suggested that Jean may have been shot while sitting down or in a cowering position. Through medical and scene reconstruction testimony, he may go after the second leg of Guyger's mistake-of-fact defense, challenging whether the mistake that led her to shoot Jean — that he was an intruder and she needed to defend her home — was reasonable.

"If (the prosecution) can't get past mistake-of-fact, then the jury has to assume and look at the case as if she was in her own apartment," Schulte says. "They're going to try to say, even if she was in her apartment, her decision to fire was unreasonable."

Proving that assertion, that Guyger's decision to shoot Jean was unreasonable, would be especially hard in Texas. State law includes a presumption that anyone using force in their own home has done so out of reasonable fear for their life.

"It's absolute," Schulte says. "If she was in her occupied habitation, it's an acquittal."

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