State of Texas vs. Amber Guyger: What We Learned Monday and What We Need to Know for Tuesday

The focus was on Amber Guyger, not Botham Jean, on the first day of her trial Monday.
The focus was on Amber Guyger, not Botham Jean, on the first day of her trial Monday. Harding University and Kaufman County
The story of Day 1 of former Dallas Police Department Officer Amber Guyger's murder trial was one of flash and substance. Those tuning in to the trial hoping they'd get something different, or maybe a little salacious, were treated by the prosecution. Those looking for answers to some of the questions that have dogged the case against Guyger from the beginning got some answers, too.

Monday's big reveal was Guyger's sexual relationship with her police partner, Martin Rivera. According to prosecutors, Guyger planned to meet with Rivera after her shift the day she shot and killed Jean. That she did, prosecutor Jason Hermus argued, was proof that exhaustion wasn't the driving force behind the shooting.

Instead, Hermus pointed to a call between Guyger and Rivera as a turning point. Before it, Hermus said, Guyger was functional. After it, Guyger made a series of mistakes and omissions that ended in tragedy.

Perhaps more significant than any potential revelations about Guyger's love life was an admission from prosecutors about Jean's door. The door, Hermus said, had been unlocked when Guyger walked in on Jean, who was watching football and eating vanilla ice cream at the time of his death.

In addition to being unlocked, prosecutors said, the door had a defective strike plate and latch, which allowed it to be shut without latching. Mix in that the apartment complex Guyger and Jean shared, South Side Flats in the Cedars, uses electronic rather than mechanical keys and Guyger's assertion that the door simply came open after she put her key in makes more sense.

After opening arguments concluded in the midafternoon, the prosecution gave the public a look at its case from all sides. Jean's sister, Allisa Findley, spoke with obvious love and affection for her brother but also explained his marijuana use — Jean had ADHD, she said, and preferred pot to Adderall. Jean's apartment, Hermus said, smelled like weed, something Guyger should've noticed as she entered what she believed to be her apartment.

Following Findley's testimony, Hermus called two cops to the stand, Sgt. Robert Watson and Rivera. Watson talked about Guyger's work with a criminal response team, and Rivera discussed explicit texts sent between him and Guyger — he said they were flirting, not proof of an ongoing relationship. Hermus' questioning of the two cops showed another card in the prosecution's hand, too.

"The DA office has said many times that they will not treat Guyger differently then any other citizen. Well, they are with this line of evidence. This evidence does nothing to dispute the ‘mistake of fact’ defense." — Pete Schulte on Facebook

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As he did in his opening statement, the assistant district attorney attempted to show that Guyger failed to follow appropriate police procedure before and after the shooting. Rivera said that a trained officer should have focused her attention on the health of someone they shot, rather than texting, as Guyger did in the shooting's immediate aftermath.

Dallas criminal defense attorney Pete Schulte, a former cop and former prosecutor, questioned the prosecution's decision to focus on Guyger's apparent failure to live up to police standards.

"With the first police officer witness, the State is eliciting what Dallas PD’s standard operating procedures (SOP) say about a “barricaded person.” In other words they are trying to show that Guyger violated the PD’s SOP by going into what she thought was her apartment. I’m sure the Defense will (or should) bring up on cross-examination that the SOP is silent on what an Officer is to do when it’s their own home (or believed to be, as in this case)," Schulte wrote on Facebook.

"What this tells me is that the State IS going to treat #Guyger differently because she was a police officer. I think that’s a mistake. The DA office has said many times that they will not treat Guyger differently then any other citizen. Well, they are with this line of evidence. This evidence does nothing to dispute the “mistake of fact” defense. The law does NOT require anyone to “retreat” when they believe they are in their own home and there’s an intruder in their home."
As the prosecution continues to present its case this week, expect more talk about appropriate police procedures and Guyger's workload — DPD officers can be found all over the prosecution's witness list. Expert witnesses from both sides will also attempt to reconstruct the shooting itself.

Monday, Hermus and defense attorney Robert Rogers argued for distinct interpretations of the forensic evidence in Jean's apartment. Hermus said Jean could have been in a seated or cowering position when he was shot. Rogers said that it was more likely Jean was coming at Guyger when she shot him, causing her to fear for her life.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young