Amber Guyger sentenced to 10 years in prison for murder of Botham Jean

Former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was sentenced to 10 years in prison Wednesday after a jury found her guilty of murder in the shooting of her neighbor Botham Jean in his apartment.

This means that Guyger will be 41, at the most, when she completes her sentence.

Jean’s younger brother, Brandt Jean, told Guyger that he forgave her, and asked to give her a hug after reciting his victim impact statement before the court.

The judge said yes, and Guyger rushed into Brandt Jean’s arms, sobbing as she embraced him for about a minute.

“I don’t want to say twice or for the hundredth time how much you’ve taken from us,” Brandt Jean said in his statement. “I think you know that. I hope you go to God with all the guilt, all the bad things that you may have done in the past. If you truly are sorry, I can speak for myself, I forgive you. I know if you go to God and ask Him, he will forgive you.

“Just speaking for myself, not even on behalf of my family, I love you just like anyone else. I’m not going to say that I hope you rot and die like my brother. I personally want the best for you. I wasn’t going to say this in front of my family, in front of anyone. I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you. I know that’s what Botham would want for you — is for you to give your life to Christ. I love you as a person and don’t wish anything bad for you.”

State District Judge Tammy Kemp shared a Bible verse and a hug with Guyger, and then Guyger was taken away to jail.

Tom Fox AP

Guyger could have faced a sentence of anywhere from five to 99 years in prison after being found guilty Tuesday of murder in the death of Botham Jean, her 26-year-old unarmed black neighbor.

On Sept. 6, 2018, Guyger, who is white, entered Jean’s apartment, mistaking it for her own, and believed he was an intruder, she testified.

She had just finished working an extended shift of more than 14 hours for the Dallas Police Department and was still in uniform when she shot Jean with her service weapon. The department fired her after the shooting.

Allison Jean, Botham Jean’s mother, said she is leaving Dallas. She acknowledged those who had come with the family on what she called, “this tumultuous journey.”

Had Guyger been trained the way she was supposed to be trained as an officer, Botham Jean would still be alive, Allison Jean said. She also took investigators to task for the way the process was conducted.

“The corruption that we saw during this process must stop for you,” Allison Jean said. “It must stop for everyone. The contamination of a crime scene is something we should never see happen again.”

The people of Dallas, and by extension the citizens of the United States, need to make sure the system of criminal justice is repaired, Allison Jean suggested.

Botham Jean “had every right to be there in whatever state he was in,” Allison Jean said. “Still, his privacy was violated. She intruded on him. And she murdered him. The city of Dallas needs to clean up inside. The Dallas Police Department has a lot of laundry.”

Dallas police said in a news conference Wednesday that they will launch an internal affairs investigation into allegations that came out during the trial.

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Tom Fox AP

John Creuzot, Dallas County district attorney, said he had never seen anything like the hug Botham Jean’s younger brother elicited from the defendant during his 37 years of service in law enforcement.

Creuzot called Brandt Jean, 18, a leader.

“I would hope that the greater community, and all of Dallas and all of the United States, could learn from his example,” Creuzot said.

‘No justice, no peace’

Other members of the Jean family and friends of the family outside the courtroom seemed distressed by the verdict. People shouted, “No justice, no peace,” outside the doors of Kemp’s court after the sentence was read.

A community victim advocate, Zina West-Lewis, was one of those shouting.

“People need to be accountable for what they do,” West-Lewis said. “This person will never be able to have kids. He will never be able to have a life. It should have been 25 years to 99 years.”

Dominique Alexander, leader of the Next Generation Action Network, said the black community is outraged. When it comes to a black person getting justice in this system, they are out of luck, Alexander said.

“Is 10 years enough for a life being taken?” Alexander asked. “We send out prayers to the Jean family. I hurt, the community hurts for the Jean family. Why give a murder conviction and then 10 years?”

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson issued a statement after Guyger’s sentence was read.

“My thoughts are and will continue to be with the Jean family,” Johnson said in his statement. “I was deeply moved by Brandt Jean’s words and actions in the courtroom today during his victim impact statement. I will never, ever forget the incredible examples of love, faith and strength personified by Botham, Brandt and the entire Jean family.”

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Closing arguments

Prosecutors had asked the jury for a sentence no shorter than 28 years, one year of punishment for each birthday Botham Jean’s family would have celebrated Sunday had the man not been murdered.

Guyger’s defense attorney Toby Shook suggested a more lenient sentence, one reserved for those not likely to commit another crime.

The jury deliberated about an hour to reach a verdict on the sentence.

Guyger was booked into the Dallas County Jail on Tuesday afternoon after the jury pronounced her guilt, which resulted in screams of elation from court watchers outside in the hallway.

LaQuita Long, Dallas County assistant district attorney, used the words of a sermon from Jean’s pastor during Wednesday’s closing arguments in the punishment phase of the trial.

“To the defendant he was just a silhouette in the room,” Jean’s pastor said during his sermon, according to Long. “To anyone who had ever met him, he was the brightest light in the room.”

Long said that during his 26 years, Jean had probably performed more community service than the people in the courtroom combined.

“Today is the day that you tell us that her actions deserve consequences,” Long said.

Shook, Guyger’s attorney, suggested that prosecutors had painted her as callous, as uncaring and as less than remorseful.

Shook told jurors they should remember the testimony of Guyger’s friends, including two who are black, who say the defendant is always caring, always thoughtful and always kind.

“The punishment range is very wide because every murder is different,” Shook said. “Some cases should be decided on the high end and others on the low end. On the low end, people make terrible, terrible mistakes and they have to be held accountable, but that shouldn’t be the end of their life.”

Guyger put her life on the line for the people of Dallas every day , Shook said. The jury should not conflate this case with the cases of other police officers who have killed black men and have not served any prison time, he said in his closing argument.

“Amber Guyger has been punished,” Shook said. “She’s shown true remorse. She feels horrible for what she did to Botham Jean and she regrets it with every bit of herself. “

Witnesses on Guyger’s behalf

Amber Guyger’s mother and sister testified that Guyger was sexually molested by a man her mother used to date. Amber Guyger would have been about 6 when the molestation occurred, Guyger’s mother, Karen Guyger, testified. That man was later convicted after Arlington police were called, her mother said.

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Tom Fox AP

By the time she was 8, Guyger aspired to have a career in law enforcement, her mother testified. Amber had always been a bubbly, outgoing, friendly and extroverted person, her mother and sister said.

The shooting left her broken.

“I got a call from Amber after the shooting,” Karen Guyger said. “I couldn’t understand her when she first told me, she was crying so hard. She wanted to take his place. She feels very bad about it.”

LaWanda Clark, 67 , testified that she was struggling with a crack addiction when she first met Amber Guyger. Guyger told Clark, an African American, that she did not fit the profile.

“I was at the house and she kept coming to me and let me know that she did not see me as a crack addict,” Clark told the jury. “She asked me what was I doing here.”

Guyger gave Clark a drug paraphernalia ticket and said that she could use the ticket one of two ways. Guyger said Clark could either continue down the road that she was traveling on or use this as her ticket out, the witness said.

Clark said she joined a program, stopped using drugs and when she graduated from the program, Amber was there at her graduation ceremony.

“She (Amber) was elated,” Clark testified. “I don’t know who was more excited. It changed my life. I have my children back. I have a job, I have a car.”

Clark said that when she heard about Botham Jean’s death and Amber’s part in it, she reached out.

“I would gets cards and different things and send them to lift her up,” Clark said. “Because at the end of the day, she’s still a human being.”

‘I’ll never see him again’

Botham Jean’s father testified Wednesday that his son’s murder has destroyed his Sundays, but added that he tries to remain strong for the rest of his family.

Sunday is the day when Botham would text his father, Bertrum Jean, and they would exchange information about where they went to church and what they cooked for Sunday dinner.

“Sundays are not good for me anymore because I’m not hearing his voice,” Bertrum Jean said. “How could this happen to him? In hindsight, what could we have done? I’ll never see him again. It’s hard not hearing his voice.”

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Tom Fox AP

Police training is ‘woefully inadequate’

One attorney for the Jean family commented that the Guyger trial shows something that they and some others have been saying for years, that the training of Dallas police officers is woefully inadequate.

Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata declined to comment on the conviction Tuesday, saying Guyger’s lawyers asked him to wait until after sentencing. The group, which represents city police officers, has paid for Guyger’s legal defense and security.

On Tuesday during the start of the sentencing phase, state prosecutors exhibited several text message conversations from Guyger’s cell phone intended to show the former police officer lacked sensitivity toward black people. The judge allowed the text messages to be introduced as evidence despite defense attorneys’ objections.

One conversation showed Guyger talking about working a Martin Luther King Jr. parade in January 2018. She received a text asking when the parade would end.

“When MLK is dead. . . Oh wait. . .” Guyger replied.

She groused that the parade could take up to three hours and suggested that parade participants could be pushed or pepper sprayed.

Another text conversation on Sept. 4, 2018, two days before Guyger shot Jean, was with someone asking if she wanted a German Shepherd dog. The person wrote the dog “may be racist.”

“It’s okay. . .I’m the same,” Guyger texted back.

In a text message conversation between Gugyer and her partner, Dallas police officer Martin Rivera, Rivera said he was in an area with five black officers.

“Not racist but damn,” he texted.

Guyger replied, “Not racist but just have a different way of working and it shows.”

The state also showed some of the posts Guyger saved on her Pinterest, one of which said, ‘Stay low, go fast/ Kill first, die last/ One shot, one kill/ No luck, all skill.” Another meme said, “People are so ungrateful. No one ever thanks me for having the patience not to kill them.”

Pinterest is a social media network in which users can save posts and photos made by others.

According to the Washington Post database, 678 people have been shot and killed by police officers so far in 2019, and 21 percent, or 144 have been black. In 2018, there were 992 fatal police shootings and 23 percent, or 229 were black, the database shows.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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This story was originally published October 2, 2019 4:05 PM.

Mitch Mitchell is an award-winning reporter covering courts and crime for the Star-Telegram. Additionally, Mitch’s past coverage on municipal government, healthcare and social services beats allow him to bring experience and context to the stories he writes.
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