A single phone call made all the difference the night former Dallas Police Department officer Amber Guyger shot and killed Botham Jean, Assistant Dallas County District Attorney Jason Hermus said Monday during opening statements in Guyger's murder trial. Before it, Hermus said, Guyger was having a normal commute home from work. After it, she could no longer function.
"Prior to that conversation, Amber Guyger was able to effectively do her job," the prosecutor said. "She was operating like a normal person. After the conversation ends, there is a marked difference."
Guyger was on the phone, prosecutors and Guyger's defense attorneys agree, with her partner at the department and sometimes lover, Martin Rivera. Prosecutors say the pair were making plans throughout the afternoon to meet later that night. Guyger's defense attorney, Robert Rogers, said the romantic part of their relationship, save for some fraternal flirting, had fizzled in 2017, months before the shooting.
After working about five hours of overtime, Guyger left work at about 9:30 p.m. on Sept. 6, 2018. She headed home, talking with Rivera the whole time, to the South Side Flats apartment complex in the Cedars. When she got to the complex's parking garage, Hermus said, she pulled over to finish the conversation.
When the call was over, the prosecution argued, Guyger searched for a parking space. She found one and pulled in backward.
As she got out of her car, Hermus said, she didn't notice the view from the fourth floor of the garage, which is markedly different from the view from the garage's third floor. Guyger's apartment was on the third floor. Jean's — the one into which Guyger entered, believing it was her own before the shooting — was on the fourth.
Likewise, Guyger missed 16 apartments with numbers beginning with "4" rather than "3" on the way to Jean's apartment. She missed, Hermus said, that a unique planter owned by one of her neighbors wasn't there. Likewise, she didn't notice Jean's red doormat when she stepped on it and opened his door.
"A minute or two is a long time for you to keep on missing repeatedly obvious signs that something is not right," Hermus said of Guyger's walk to Jean's door.
Guyger pushed open Jean's door — prosecutors said it was unlocked — and didn't notice that the furniture was different, or that the apartment smelled like marijuana, Hermus said, before she shot Jean.
"She definitely saw him because she shot him exactly where she's trained to shoot an individual," Hermus said.
When Guyger called 911 after the shooting, she repeatedly said she'd made a mistake. She never said she perceived Jean as a threat or thought that her life was in danger, Hermus said.
"She shot Bo because she thought he was in her apartment, and that's it," Hermus said.
Robert Rogers, one of Guyger's attorneys, said that anyone could have made the mistakes that his client made. She was on autopilot, Rogers repeatedly said.
"The state's case was born with a rush to judgment," he said. "Reason and common sense will clearly show you that on Sept. 6, 2018, Amber Guyger firmly and reasonably believed that she was in her own apartment."
South Side Flats is a confusing complex, Rogers said.
"You drive around by memory, you park by memory, you park by feel," he said.
When investigators surveyed the complex, dozens of residents reported having parked on the wrong floor or having walked to the wrong apartment. Forty-six said that they'd put their key in the wrong door, according to Rogers.
"What is about to unfold in front of your very eyes is nothing short of an epic tragedy," Rogers said.
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