DALLAS (AP) — Opening statements were set to begin Monday in the murder trial of a white Dallas police officer who fatally shot a black neighbor in his home, a shooting the officer has said happened after she entered the man’s apartment by mistake.
Amber Guyger, 31, is on trial for last year’s fatal shooting of 26-year-old Botham Jean, whom she said she mistook for an intruder in her own home.
Her lawyers are likely to argue she fired in self-defense based on the erroneous belief that she was in her own apartment and that Jean, an accountant from the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia, was a burglar.
During pretrial proceedings Monday morning, prosecutors and defense attorneys sparred over whether Guyger’s cellphone messages should be entered into evidence. Opening statements were delayed when a defense attorney told Judge Tammy Kemp that elected Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot had recently given an interview regarding the case that aired on a Dallas TV station. Creuzot is not one of the trial prosecutors.
The judge had previously issued a gag order in the high-profile case and was visibly frustrated by the report. Kemp delayed the proceedings while reviewing the video and said she would question jurors about whether they had seen it.
The case has attracted intense national scrutiny for its strange circumstances and as one in a chain of shootings of unarmed black men by white police officers.
The outcome may hang on whether the jury believes that Guyger’s mistake was reasonable, according to legal experts. Twelve jurors and four alternatives were selected to hear the case earlier this month. Their backgrounds have not yet been made public.
Guyger was off duty but still in uniform when she shot Jean. She told investigators that after a 15-hour shift she parked on the fourth floor of her apartment complex’s garage — rather than the third floor, where she lived — and found the apartment’s door ajar.
Three days after the shooting, Guyger was arrested for manslaughter. She was subsequently fired from the Dallas Police Department and charged by a grand jury .
The jury will have to decide whether Guyger committed murder, a lesser offense such as manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide, or no crime at all.