Saturday Fizzles as Week 1 of Amber Guyger’s Murder Trial Winds Down

The first week of Amber Guyger's trial wrapped up with five minutes of testimony Saturday morning.
The first week of Amber Guyger's trial wrapped up with five minutes of testimony Saturday morning. Kaufman County
Saturday at Frank Crowley Courthouse had a vibe easily recognizable to anyone who's ever worked the weekend shift in an office building.

Head to any floor in the building except the seventh, and Dallas' hub of criminal courts activity was bereft of action. Get off the elevator on the seventh floor, however, and there was plenty to see.

The row of TV cameras and reporters that have camped out near District Judge Tammy Kemp's courtroom all week, squeezing as much as it could out of former Dallas Police Department officer Amber Guyger's murder trial, was still there, on duty because of Kemp's decision that Saturday would be a business day like any other.

At least that was the idea.

After an hour or so of debate about the potential scope of several defense witnesses' testimony outside the presence of the jury, Texas Ranger David Armstrong took the stand and the jury was brought in. He answered a couple of questions about the potential physical experience of a person encountering what they perceived to be a threat to her life, and that was it. Five minutes of testimony, and Kemp sent everyone home for the day, quickly rendering the seventh floor as desolate as the rest of the building.

Armstrong's truncated testimony stemmed from a series of decisions made by Kemp. Over objections from Guyger's defense team, Kemp has repeatedly refused to allow any expert witnesses to tell the jury what they thought about Guyger's state of mind when she shot and killed Botham Jean. Kemp also didn't want Armstrong or any of the defense's other experts to tell the jury whether or not they thought Guyger had acted reasonably when she killed Jean.

Throughout the trial, the judge has kept a tight leash on the case's experts. Wednesday, as Armstrong testified during the state's case, Kemp refused to let the Ranger tell the jury that he believed Guyger should not have been charged with a crime for killing Jean after she entered his apartment, believing it was her own, and mistook him for an intruder. In doing so, she preempted much of the defense's case, which was expected to center on experts telling the jury about why Guyger's decision to shoot was a legally justifiable one.

When Guyger's trial resumes Monday morning, the defense, out of witnesses who can offer testimony that hasn't already been excluded, is expected to rest its case, according to Lee Merritt, the Jean family's civil attorney. Stripped of expert opinion, the defense's case — and the prosecution's case, too, really — is going to come down to Guyger. Friday morning, she testified for more than three hours, attempting to explain the shooting itself as well as her behavior before and after it occurred.

Guyger said she was relaxed as she walked from her pickup, which she said she inadvertently parked one level above her apartment, to Jean’s door, the one she thought belonged to her. She wasn’t bothered by the after-work phone call she’d just had with her police partner and former lover, Martin Rivera, as prosecutors suggested during their opening statement on Monday.

“I saw (the door) was cracked open,” Guyger said of the moment she put her key in Jean’s door. “I heard moving around inside my apartment.”

Guyger said her heart rate skyrocketed as she pushed the door open to take on the threat.

“Whenever I fully opened the door, I saw this silhouette figure standing in the back of the apartment by the window,” Guyger said.

She raised her voice and repeated what she said next.

“I yelled at him, ‘Let me see your hands, let me see your hands,’” Guyger told jurors. “I couldn’t see his hands ... I thought he was going to kill me.”

Three of Jean’s neighbors testified Tuesday that they did not hear anyone yell any commands like “Let me see your hands” before they heard Guyger take two shots at Jean.

Dallas County Assistant District Attorney Jason Hermus' cross-examination on Guyger focused on her decision to enter the apartment and use deadly force.

She could've used her police radio and, in Hermus' words, had the cavalry at the South Side Flats in seconds, given the complex's proximity to DPD's main headquarters in the Cedars. Despite insisting that she followed her police training, down to the "double-tap" she'd fired at Jean to give herself the best chance of hitting, Guyger said retreating and waiting for cover never entered her mind.

“(Using lethal force) was the only option that went through my head,” Guyger said.

There's been plenty of testimony from both sides about the ins and outs of Guyger's initial mistake — heading to Jean's apartment from the parking garage rather than her own — but testimony later in the week, the stuff the jury will take into deliberations, was focused on what happened afterward.

Despite telling investigators that she'd attempted to give Jean first aid, Guyger did not have blood on her hands or uniform after the shooting. She didn't tell the first of her fellow officers who got to the apartment that she thought Jean was armed, nor did she say she felt her life was in danger during the 911 call she made after the shooting.

Two days after the shooting, Guyger resumed sending sexually explicit text messages to Rivera, she admitted Friday, and joked with him about needing to get drunk. Prosecutors, whether they were detailing her affair with Rivera, a married man, or pointing out the non-lethal options she had at her disposal, clearly want the jury to hate Guyger, Dallas-based criminal defense attorney Pete Schulte told the Observer earlier this week.

Closing arguments in the case could begin as early as Monday. Once they're over, Kemp will give the jury its deliberation marching orders, including whether they can consider a lesser charge, like manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide.
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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