Race Factors Into Jury Picks For Ex-Cop Who Killed Black Man
Jury selection resumed Friday in the murder trial of a white former Dallas police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black neighbor inside his own apartment, in a case that that sparked fierce debate over race, politics and policing.
Potential jurors in Amber Guyger's trial for the killing of Botham Jean returned to a Dallas courthouse where they were questioned by attorneys and the judge about their ability to serve in the high-profile case.
The demographics of the jury will be closely watched in a case that has drawn national attention. The circumstances of the shooting sparked outrage and critics, including Jean's family, have questioned why Guyger was not taken into custody immediately after the shooting and whether race played a factor in her decision to use deadly force.
Guyger shot and killed Jean in the apartment building where they both lived last September. Guyger, 31, was off-duty but still in uniform at the times, She told investigators that she confused Jean's apartment with her own and mistook the 26-year-old accountant from the Caribbean island nation St. Lucia for a burglar.
Assistant District Attorney Jason Fine's questions Friday and the range of responses from the potential jurors showcased the varied issues at play.
When asked whether Guyger's work would "change the burden of proof" she needed, a white woman said, "I do believe that a police officer should be held to a higher standard."
Several other people, mostly men, said they'd be unable to convict Guyger because she'd been a Dallas officer when she shot Jean.
Only about a dozen of the 220 potential jurors raised their hands when Fine asked who had heard "nothing" about the case.
"I've already formed an opinion, so it would take more evidence," a Hispanic man with a beard told the prosecutor. He did not say what his opinion was.
A white man with glasses said his feeling that "we have a huge gun control problem" would affect his ability to judge the case.
State District Judge Tammy Kemp urged the pool to "set aside any preconceived notions" of what happened when Guyger shot Jean because they might be "far afield."
Prosecutors had not finished their questions when the proceedings broke for lunch, but Kemp was firm that 12 jurors and four alternates would be selected Friday, a week from when the process began on Sept. 6. Guyger's trial is set to start Sept. 23.
Last week, on the anniversary of Jean's death, hundreds of potential jurors were given questionnaires asking about their views and knowledge of the case. The opposing lawyers are expected to have eliminated many people based on their answers and will further cull the pool through questioning Friday.
Attorneys for the former Dallas police officer requested in July that her trial be moved to another county, claiming "prejudicial" media coverage and statements from public officials "poisoned the jury pool" in Dallas.
Kemp has said she will see whether a jury can be seated before ruling on the request.
Jean graduated in 2016 from Harding University in Arkansas, where he often led campus religious services as a student. He had worked for accounting firm PwC since graduating.
After shooting Jean, Guyger can be heard in a recording of a 911 apologizing to him. She tells a 911 dispatcher nearly 20 times that she thought she thought she was in her own apartment as she waited for emergency responders to arrive.