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(DALLASNEWS.COM) – Fired Dallas police Officer Amber Guyger’s attorneys asked a judge Monday to move her murder trial out of Dallas, citing “media hysteria” surrounding the fatal shooting of Botham Jean.
Guyger, 30, killed Jean on Sept. 6 inside his apartment when she was off-duty but still in uniform. Authorities said she mistook his apartment for her own. She said his door was unlocked and she thought Jean, a 26-year-old accountant from St. Lucia, was a burglar.
Guyger’s attorneys, Robert Rogers, Toby Shook and Michael Mowla, argued in their court filing that the “publicity surrounding this case has been prejudicial and inflammatory.” Jean’s death was international news and area media outlets published a stream of stories after his death. Guyger’s attorneys cited 297 articles about Guyger and Jean in their motion.
Whether potential jurors are qualified to sit on the jury isn’t about whether they’ve heard about the shooting or even whether they know Jean or Guyger’s name. To serve, jurors can’t have an opinion about Guyger’s guilt or innocence.
The trial is scheduled to start Sept. 23. Jury selection is slated to begin on the first anniversary of Jean’s death.
Prosecutor Jason Hermus has not responded to the motion. State District Judge Tammy Kemp signed a gag order preventing attorneys involved in the criminal case from speaking with the media.
Guyger’s attorneys requested that the trial be moved to Collin, Grayson, Kaufman, Ellis, Rockwall or Fannin County.
Public officials weighed in
Guyger’s attorneys argue that several prominent public officials’ comments on the case, along with media coverage, make it impossible for the former Dallas officer to get a fair trial in Dallas County.
Faith Johnson, whose tenure as Dallas County district attorney ended when John Crezuot took office in January, is accused by Guyger’s attorneys of having “perpetuated the pervasive, prejudicial and inflammatory publicity” in the case, they wrote in the motion.
The attorneys said Johnson “poisoned the jury pool” by commenting on the case publicly, pointing to news conferences she spoke at after Guyger’s arrest and indictment, along with Jean’s family.
The attorneys argue that Johnson interfered with Guyger’s right to a fair trial.
The motion also names former Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, U.S. presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke and state Sen. Royce West as officials who “injected themselves into the case.”
The attorneys write that media outlets pushed the false narrative that “merely because … [Guyger] is white and Mr. Jean was black, the incident must have been racial in nature.”
They pushed back against that notion, saying Guyger mistakenly entered an apartment she thought was hers and had “no idea” who was inside.
“There is no evidence showing that defendant knew that a black man lived in that apartment,” they wrote in the motion. “There is no evidence showing that defendant knew that a person in that apartment was smoking marijuana. And certainly, neither defendant nor her attorneys had anything to do with the discovery of marijuana in Mr. Jean’s apartment or the dissemination of this fact to the media.”
The motion mostly cites area media coverage. But it also cites national coverage, which would have been seen locally, statewide and nationally, such as an episode of The View during one of the hosts, Whoopi Goldberg, said that if Jean had shot Guyger, Jean “would be somewhere hanging now,” according to the defense motion.
“This is inflammatory and utter nonsense,” the motion states. “There is no known situation in recent memory where a black man is alleged to have killed a police officer and the suspect was lynched.”
Most high-profile cases remain in Dallas
There aren’t a large number of cases that get moved in Dallas. Anecdotally, trials are moved out of the county more often when prosecutors seek the death penalty. But even the vast majority of death penalty cases remain in the county.
The Office of Court Administration, which collects statistics on Texas courts, doesn’t track changes of venue in criminal courts.
Area attorneys could recall only two changes of venue granted for Dallas County cases in a little more than 20 years. Darlie Routier killed her two young sons in Rowlett in 1996. Her trial was moved to Kerr County, northwest of San Antonio. The jury sent her to death row, where she remains.
The trial of one of the Texas 7 prison escapees, Michael Rodriguez, who killed Irving Officer Aubrey Hawkins on Christmas Eve 2000 was moved to East Texas. Rodriguez was executed.