Jury Selection in Amber Guyger Murder Trial Begins

Judge could rule on change of venue request at any time during jury selection

One year to the day after Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger shot and killed 26-year-old Botham Jean, jury selection began in her murder trial.

The jury coordinator confirms more than 4,000 summons for jury service were mailed out for Friday's hearing. Of that, 806 people showed up and 410 were given a questionnaire.

Initially, the hallways on the second floor of the Frank Crowley Courts building became so crowded that 189-jurors were sent to the basement and then home and another 219 were excused. 

During jury selection Judge Kemp told potential jurors "I am ordering you not to participate in any media coverage." 

Despite being open to the public, journalists were prevented from entering the central jury room for the first two hours of proceedings Friday. Judge Kemp later told reporters the decision was due to the room being full to capacity. 

Attorneys and the court will use that questionnaire to trim the list of jurors down even more before Sept. 13, the next time they'll all appear in a Dallas County courtroom. It's there that potential jurors are expected to face more questions by not just prosecutors and Guyger's defense team, but also Judge Tammy Kemp.

"She herself will likely question each and every juror," Dr. Mary Noffsinger Ph.d, a litigation psychologist not connected to the case said.

Guyger's defense team has filed a motion to move the case out of Dallas County but Kemp has taken the unusual, but not unheard of, step of attempting jury selection before ruling on the motion.

"Judge Kemp is doing things a little differently. She wants to hear from the jury pool first, before making a determination," Noffsinger said.

The exposure the case has received, along with the strong, polarizing public opinions that have developed, will be among the primary challenges faced during jury selection. Noffsinger believes both sides should be careful trying to select jurors based on race and gender alone.

"I think that's a cautionary word to both sides right now, that it would be ill-advised and not supported by science if they were to make a decision based on simply what they see of a person coming into the courtroom," she said.

Former Dallas County Prosecutor Thomas D'Amore believes the change of venue question will likely be answered early in the jury selection process.

"I think it will depend early on, during the first few days, the people who come in and talk to the court and both sides," D'Amore said.

"In this case they are having to make a really tough decision about a very controversial case," Noffsinger added. "If jury selection is done wrong, what you will see is just a snowball effect of one juror raising his or her hand say, 'I can't be fair,' 'I have preconceived notions about this case' and then everyone else following."

Attorneys representing the Jean family were also in attendance and told reporters the family is closely watching from St. Lucia. 

"It's the anniversary of Botham's death and they are in St. Lucia and they want to have a play by play of what is going on and we promised that we would do this for them," Attorney Daryl Washington said. 

The court hopes to select 12 jurors and four alternates by Sept. 13 and Kemp could rule on the defense motion to change the venue at any time.

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