Former Dallas cop Amber Guyger took the stand at her murder trial Friday, breaking down in tears as she testified about the night she killed her black neighbor, 26-year-old Botham Jean, whom she says she shot after mistaking his apartment for her own.
“I hate that I have to live with this every single day of my life. I’ve asked God for forgiveness,” the 31-year-old said in court, her voice quivering. “I feel like I don’t deserve a chance to be with my family and friends. I wish he was the one with the gun that killed me.”
“I am so sorry,” Guyger added. “This is not about hate. It’s about being scared that night.”
The white ex-cop, who was still in uniform but off-duty when she killed Jean on Sept. 6, 2018, was the first witness to be called in her defense at the trial, which began Monday.
At one point, Judge Tammy Kemp called a short recess to let Guyger compose herself after she broke down while describing the moments leading up to the shooting.
When she began again, Guyger told jurors she noticed the door to Jean’s fourth-floor unit, which at the time she believed to be her own, was cracked open when she put her key inside the lock. When she heard movement inside the dark apartment, she thought somebody had broken in, she said.
“I compare it to being in a car wreck,” she said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
Guyger testified that she ordered Jean multiple times to show her his hands, but he continued to walk towards her, shouting, “Hey, hey, hey!” “I thought that he was coming at me,” she said. “I was scared he was gonna kill me.”
It wasn’t until seconds later, after she’d fired at Jean with her service weapon twice, that she realized she wasn’t in her own apartment, Guyger said, adding that she was “confused” and “everything started to spin.”
She was ashamed after the fatal shooting and felt “like a terrible person.” “No police officer ever could want to hurt an innocent person,” Guyger insisted on the stand.
Earlier in her testimony, the ex-cop recalled talking to her police partner, Martin Rivera, with whom she’d been exchanging sexts all day, as she parked her car on the fourth floor of the apartment complex, instead of the third, where her unit is located.
“I was just ready to go home,” she told jurors, describing her mindset as she approached Jean’s door.
Guyger was fired and charged with murder in the wake of the fatal shooting. The tragedy prompted a wave of protests across Dallas over racial bias and excessive use of force by police.
Prosecutors said during opening arguments in the trial on Monday that Guyger was “distracted” by her intimate phone call with Rivera, which ended only a few minutes before Jean was shot, and that she “made a series of unreasonable errors and unreasonable decisions and unreasonable choices.” They claim she missed obvious signs that she’d opened the door into the wrong apartment.
During cross-examination on Friday, prosecutors grilled Guyger on why she fired two shots directly at Jean’s chest, when she should’ve known from her police training to call for backup and not enter the apartment if she suspected an intruder was inside.
When asked if she intended to kill Jean when she opened fire, Guyger replied, “I did.”
Painting her as callous and self-absorbed in the aftermath of the shooting, prosecutors also hammered Guyger on why she texted Rivera while Jean lay dying on the floor, and why she failed to give him proper CPR despite her “thousands of hours of police training.” She also failed to use “combat gauze” that was in her backpack to treat Jean’s wounds.
Lead prosecutor Jason Hermus accused her of putting her “needs and wants over his.”
“Can you imagine Mr. Jean’s perspective? An intruder barging into his apartment—somebody on the other side of that door being you going in with the purpose of finding the threat and taking care of it,” he said.
The ex-cop’s lawyers have argued that she was simply exhausted after work and residents at the apartment complex often confused other apartments for their own, as the layout of each floor is identical.
At the start of her testimony, Guyger’s lawyer asked about her childhood and career as a police officer.
“I just wanted to help people and that was the one career that I thought I could help people in,” she said.
Guyger faces up to 99 years in prison if convicted.