DALLAS — A Dallas police officer broke her silence Friday about the night she killed a young accountant who lived in the apartment right above hers, telling jurors that she has to live with the guilt every day and that she wished their roles were reversed.
Amber Guyger tearfully told the packed courtroom at her murder trial that she was sorry for killing 26-year-old Botham Jean last September, explaining that she mistook his fourth-floor apartment for her own. But during cross-examination, prosecutors cast doubt on Guyger’s grief, wondered why she didn’t call for backup instead of confronting Jean and questioned her attempts to save his life.
Guyger, 31, repeatedly apologized for killing Jean as she spoke publicly for the first time about the events of that night.
“I hate that I have to live with this every single day of my life and I ask God for forgiveness, and I hate myself every single day,” she said as she looked across the courtroom at Jean’s family.
Guyger, who was fired after the shooting, said she wished “he was the one with the gun” and had killed her, instead. “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 that night,” she said.
Jean grew up in the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia before coming to the U.S. for college. His shooting drew widespread attention because of the strange circumstances and because it was one in a string of shootings of unarmed black men by white police officers.
Guyger testified that upon returning home in-uniform after a long shift that night, she put her key into what she thought was her door lock and the door opened because it hadn’t been fully closed. Fearing it was a break-in, she drew her service weapon and stepped inside to find a silhouetted figure standing in the dark.
“Let me see your hands! Let me see your hands,” she said she told the man. But Guyger said she couldn’t see his hands and he began coming toward her at a “fast-paced” walk. She said he yelled, “Hey! Hey! Hey!” right before she opened fire.
“I was scared he was going to kill me,” she said under questioning by her lawyers, who called her as their first witness on the trial’s fifth day. She said she intended to kill him when she pulled the trigger because that’s what she had been trained to do as a police officer.
Lead prosecutor Jason Hermus suggested that Guyger was less than grief-stricken in the aftermath of the shooting, saying that two days after she shot Jean, Guyger asked her police partner, with whom she was romantically involved, if he wanted to go for drinks.
Hermus also asked Guyger why she didn’t radio in for help when she thought there was a break-in at what she thought was her home. She replied that going through the doorway with her gun drawn, “was the only option that went through my head.”
Hermus also grilled Guyger about why she didn’t perform “proper CPR” on Jean after she shot him. He asked about an eight-hour de-escalation training course she had taken that April, but Guyger told the jury she could no longer remember what she learned in the course. She said she performed some chest compressions on Jean with one hand while using her phone with the other, but she also acknowledged stopping several times.
The basic facts of how Jean died aren’t in dispute. But the jury will have to decide whether Guyger’s actions constitute murder, a lesser offence such as manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide, or no crime at all.
Guyger has said she fired in self-defence after mistaking Jean for a burglar and her lawyers say the identical appearance of the floors at their complex frequently led to tenants parking on the wrong floor or trying to enter the wrong apartments.
Prosecutors have questioned how Guyger could have missed numerous signs that she was in the wrong place and suggested she was distracted by sexually explicit phone messages with her police partner. They say Jean was no threat to Guyger, noting that he was in his living room eating a bowl of ice cream when she entered his apartment.
In a frantic 911 call played in court earlier this week and again Friday, Guyger said “I thought it was my apartment” nearly 20 times.
Associated Press writer Jamie Stengle contributed to this report.
Jake Bleiberg, The Associated Press