It’s been more than a year since a former Texas police officer mistook her neighbor for a burglar and fatally shot him. Now, the trial over the tragic accident is set to begin on Monday.
Prosecutors say that just after 10 p.m. on September 6, 2018, 31-year-old Amber Guyger accidentally entered the wrong unit in her apartment complex after she returned home from her shift. She was off-duty, but was still in uniform.
Upon entering the apartment and seeing a “large silhouette”, which she mistook for a burglar who had broken in, Guyger reportedly drew her service weapon and shot 26-year-old Botham Jean in the darkness.
Botham Jean, a St. Lucia native who went by Bo and had reportedly moved to Texas after being hired by a prestigious accounting firm, was killed during the encounter.
Now, more than a year later, Guyger, who was terminated from her department shortly after the fatal shooting, will go before a jury, who is tasked to determine whether the act was a tragic accident, or if it was murder.
NBC News spoke with Kenneth Williams, a criminal law professor at South Texas College of Law in Houston about the case.
“I think a lot of jurors do tend to give the benefit of the doubt to police. But is the jury going to accept that she made a reasonable mistake?” Williams asked. “If there is an acquittal, I think there will be a lot of outrage in the community. There will be a feeling like the police will get away with anything — even against a person sitting in his own apartment, obeying the law.”
A number of protests followed Jean’s death, as Guyger was a white police officer and Jean was black.
District Judge Tammy Kemp issued a gag order for the case in January, barring the attorneys from speaking with the press about the process of the case as it moved toward a trial.
The jury will need to decide whether to believe Guyger’s claims that she told the ‘intruder’
“A self-defense claim also centers on how a reasonable person would have acted — and the prosecution will want to distinguish Guyger’s reaction from that of a reasonable person in her shoes,” said Amber Baylor, an associate professor at Texas A&M’s School of Law.
The defense will likely bring up Guyger’s actions based off of her mental state during the time of the shooting.
Guyger had recently ended a 15-hour shift when she returned in uniform to the South Side Flats apartment complex. She parked on the fourth floor, instead of the third, where she lived, according to an affidavit filed for the officer’s arrest warrant, possibly suggesting she was confused or disoriented at the time of the shooting.
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She said she entered the apartment—which she believed to be her own—after realizing the door was unlocked and slightly ajar and then saw a figure in the darkness. Guyger said she gave verbal commands, because she believed her apartment was being burglarized, and then drew her weapon and fired twice, the affidavit said.
It wasn’t until she had turned on the lights that she realized she was in the wrong unit and had shot the man who actually lived there.
Tensions as high as the stakes as Amber Guyger goes on trial in Botham Jean's death https://t.co/SoGfFPhWVP
— Dallas Morning News (@dallasnews) September 22, 2019
Baylor said the court will have to decide whether a police officer’s training should put them in a position to better determine a course of action than a civilian.
“It’s true that defense teams have used officers’ work experience to justify making quick decisions in potentially dangerous or volatile situations,” Baylor said. “One could also argue that an officer is trained to assess the situation more carefully than a civilian, and de-escalate volatile situations.”
Opening statements for the trial are set to begin on Monday.
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