(WASHINGTON POST) — On the fifth day of her murder trial, Amber Guyger told a packed courtroom that Botham Jean was already dying by the time she realized she made a mistake.
It was the first time the public heard from Guyger since the former Dallas police officer walked into the apartment above hers, thinking it was her own, and shot and killed Jean, her 26-year-old upstairs neighbor.
“That’s when everything, it just started to spin,” Guyger said, recounting the night of Sept. 6, 2018, when she fired two bullets at a man she said she thought was burglarizing her home.
But Guyger, a white woman who had just finished a long shift at work, was on the wrong floor of the building. In a matter of seconds, prosecutors said, Jean — an unarmed black man watching TV and eating ice cream in his own apartment — was on the ground, a fatal gunshot wound in his chest.
“I shot an innocent man,” Guyger said Friday, during hours of testimony, her sobs at times muddling her words.
“I wish he was the one with the gun and killed me,” the 31-year-old said. “I never wanted to take an innocent person’s life, and I’m so sorry. This is not about hate; it’s about being scared.”
In Dallas, the shooting touched off protests and demands for police reform. Many see the case as another egregious example of a white officer killing an unarmed black man, part of a pattern of police wielding deadly force disproportionately against people of color.
But the unusual facts of this case have already made it unique among other high-profile fatal police shootings, most of which are never even prosecuted. Guyger, who was fired from the police force shortly after she killed Jean, was first arrested for manslaughter. A grand jury later indicted her on a murder charge.
During the trial, which began Monday, her defense attorneys have argued that she made a mistake, calling it “awful and tragic, but innocent.” They’ve said she was within her rights to shoot Jean because she believed she was in her own home, acting in self-defense. But the prosecution has argued that she was negligent — armed, distracted and too quick to draw and fire her weapon.
Guyger’s lawyers said she was exhausted, on autopilot as she parked on the wrong floor of her building’s garage and walked down a fourth-floor hallway, one level above her third-floor unit.
When she arrived at the apartment she thought was hers, she didn’t notice it was number 1478, and not her own 1378. She didn’t notice Jean’s red doormat, either. Prosecutors said she wasn’t paying attention, too caught up in a sexually explicit conversation she was having with her partner on the police force.
On Friday, Guyger reenacted what came next, when she went to open the apartment door. Standing at the front of the courtroom, she slung her backpack, her bulletproof vest and her lunchbox over one arm and pretended to pull her keys out of her pocket with the other.
That’s when she said she first heard someone inside. She opened the door and said she saw a “silhouette figure” in the apartment. She drew her gun, she testified, and yelled, “Let me see your hands!”
Jean responded by shouting, “Hey,” and walking quickly toward her, she said.
“I was scared he was going to kill me,” she said.
During cross-examination, lead prosecutor Jason Hermus asked Guyger if she was shooting to kill, falling back on her police training.
“When you aimed and pulled the trigger at Mr. Jean, shooting him in center mass, right where you are trained, you intended to kill Mr. Jean?” he asked.
“I did,” she replied.
Hermus also questioned why Guyger opened the door in the first place. If she suspected someone was inside, he argued, she could have taken cover and called for help.
“Had you done any one of those things, Mr. Jean would probably be alive today, right?” Hermus asked.
“Yes, sir,” Guyger said.
The prosecutor argued that Guyger wasn’t being truthful about asking Jean to show his hands, pointing out that none of the other apartment building residents who testified said they heard her loud commands.
That, plus the bullet’s downward trajectory — which, according to a medical examiner’s testimony, showed Jean was shot while standing up or “in a cowering position” — indicated that Guyger shot without warning a man who was not threatening, prosecutors said.
Guyger said she then performed CPR and a sternum rub on Jean as she called 911 and waited for medics to arrive. But the prosecution accused her of not doing enough to help, asking why she hadn’t used first-aid supplies she carried with her police gear.
Guyger’s lawyers have argued that she knew Jean was in critical condition, beyond her ability to help, and that she thought calling for medical personnel was the best option.
“The state he was in,” she testified, “I knew it wasn’t good.”