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'I Hate Myself,' Former Dallas Police Officer Who Killed Neighbor Tells Jurors

Fired Dallas police officer Amber Guyger becomes emotional as she testifies in her murder trial on Friday. She told police she thought that her neighbor's apartment was her own and that he was an intruder.
Tom Fox

Former Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger took the stand on Friday, testifying that she was "scared to death" when she fatally shot her unarmed black neighbor in his apartment last year. She has said she entered Botham Jean's apartment — which was directly above hers — by mistake.

Guyger, 31, is charged with murder in the death of 26-year-old Botham Jean, a Dallas accountant and native of St. Lucia. It is the first time she has spoken publicly about the shooting. On Friday, she broke down in tears several times as she gave her version of what happened on Sept. 6, 2018.

The former officer's attorneys argue that Guyger fired in self-defense after mistaking Jean for a burglar and contends the shooting was a tragic mistake. They say Guyger returned home after a long shift, didn't realize she was on a different floor and entered the wrong apartment in the sprawling complex.

The latch on the door apparently wasn't engaged, allowing Guyger to enter. She testified that the apartment was dark and that when the silhouetted person inside began approaching her at a "fast-paced" walk, she called out, "Let me see your hands! Let me see your hands!" and fired within seconds.

Guyger, who was fired from her job after the shooting, said she intended to kill Jean when she fired her gun, believing he was a threat.

"I was scared he was going to kill me," she said under questioning by her attorneys.

"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. I never wanted to take an innocent person's life. And I'm so sorry," Guyger said.

Prosecutors, however, say she showed incredible carelessness that night. When Assistant District Attorney Jason Hermus asked Guyger, who was off duty but still in uniform at the time, why she didn't back away and use her police radio to call for help, she said that entering the home "was the only option that went through my head."

The prosecutor said Jean posed no threat and was in his living room eating a bowl of ice cream when Guyger entered his apartment. Hermus emphasized that Guyger realized somebody was inside the apartment when she was still out in the hallway. They say she was distracted by texts and phone calls with her partner and ignored several signs that would have indicated she was on the wrong floor. More critically, Hermus questioned how much first aid she administered to Jean after the shooting.

To make his point, he placed Guyger's police first aid bag onto the table in front of her and began pulling out some of the content – combat gauze and other items designed to control traumatic bleeding. Asked why she didn't use any of the first aid material, Guyger said that in the chaos of that night, she was panicking and never thought to use them.

"You chose to go in and find the threat even though you were in a position to take cover and concealment," Hermus said, referring to police safety protocols. "You could have found cover and concealment and got help. You had a police radio. It worked. You were two blocks from PD headquarters. Response time is two minutes to the apartment. Had you done any one of those things, Mr. Jean would probably be alive today."

Under questioning, Guyger said she did some CPR, but added that her training had been limited and that she "had never tried it on a person" before. She told the court that she was struggling to provide aid and talk on the phone to 911 dispatchers. She admitted she stopped providing aid to text her partner for help twice and to guide arriving officers from the hallway into the apartment.

The case will turn on whether the jury finds that Guyger acted reasonably.

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Tanya Ballard Brown is an editor for NPR. She joined the organization in 2008.