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Testimony Begins In Off-Duty Officer's Murder Trial In Dallas

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The murder trial of former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger got underway this week. Guyger, who is white, shot and killed a black man, Botham Jean. She says she mistakenly entered the unit above hers and thought Jean was a burglar. Her lawyer called the shooting a tragic mistake, but the lead prosecutor spoke yesterday of what may have distracted Guyger from her surroundings at the time. NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports from Dallas.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: It's unusual in a murder trial to have this many key facts that both prosecutors and defense lawyers stipulate to be true - foremost, that Botham Jean did nothing to invite his violent death, and second, that the off-duty police officer who trespassed into Jean's apartment purposely drew her service weapon and killed him. He was sitting in his living room, watching TV and eating a bowl of vanilla ice cream, prosecutor Jason Hermus told the jury.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JASON HERMUS: When, all of a sudden, Amber Guyger comes through his front door, uninvited.

GOODWYN: Guyger shoots twice. Hermus described the downward path of the bullet that killed Jean as evidence the 26-year-old accountant was crouching low in a defensive position facing the armed intruder.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HERMUS: One of these bullets hits Bo in the chest just above his left nipple. The path of that bullet goes down into his heart, does absolutely devastating damage, goes through his lung, goes through his stomach, goes through his intestine.

GOODWYN: Dreadfully wounded, Jean takes his last steps and falls. Hermus emphasized that Guyger drew her weapon so quickly the young black man had no chance to surrender or explain to the white woman that she had entered the wrong apartment, no time to form even a single sentence. But Amber Guyger's defense lawyer, Robert Rogers, painted a very different scene, one where the 30-year-old officer is confused and terribly frightened.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROBERT ROGERS: She's in her apartment. My God - there's a man in my apartment. And he's big. He's twice her size. And he's coming at her, and she pulls her gun. And she starts to say, hands, but he drowns her out. And he's yelling, hey, hey. And he's 25 feet, and then he's 20 feet, and it's happening like this (snapping).

GOODWYN: Rogers told the jury Guyger firmly believed she was in her own apartment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROGERS: And there's this intruder. and I'm holding a gun. And why is he not stopping? Why is he yelling at me? Why is he coming at me? Why is my gun - the display of my gun not working? He must have a weapon. He's - must want to kill me because I caught him burglarizing my apartment.

GOODWYN: With Botham Jean unable to dispute Guyger's lawyer's account, prosecutors began building their case using evidence to show that Guyger should have known she was on the wrong floor, like the large, red, semicircular doormat in front of Jean's apartment, where Guyger's apartment had no mat at all. Finally, prosecutors intend to use Guyger's cellphone records and social media accounts to allege the officer was distracted by her romance with her police partner.

Guyger's defense lawyers scoff at that notion. Robert Rogers told the jurors the shooting was, quote, "nothing more than an epic tragedy. What you will see and hear and experience is the perfect storm of innocent circumstances."

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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