From the steps of the Frank Crowley Courts Building to the street corners all around downtown Dallas, residents reacted with poised elation — and a bit of relief — at the guilty verdict in Amber Guyger’s murder trial.
But many residents also tamped their emotions, knowing that the case won’t be over until after the sentencing of Guyger, a former Dallas police officer who on Tuesday was found guilty of murder in the death of Botham Jean.
The sentencing phase of the trial, which many saw as a metaphor for the often tense relationship between Dallas police and the black community, will continue Wednesday.
Guyger, who faces a possible prison sentence of five to 99 years, acknowledged during the trial that she shot Jean to death last year after opening the door to his apartment, mistakenly thinking it was her residence and that he was a burglar.
Lawyers for Jean’s family announced that a rally planned for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the courthouse steps would be postponed while the sentencing phase of the case proceeded. Jurors were sent home for the day about 4 p.m., and were expected to reconvene at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
About 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, about two dozen religious leaders and their supporters gathered at the steps outside the courthouse to show unity and a desire to create more peace and understanding in the community.
Imam Omar Suleiman, president of the Yaqeen Institute of Islamic Research, said in an interview after the gathering that much work remains in bringing diverse corners of the Dallas community together.
“People are pleased with the verdict for justice,” Suleiman said, “but the system is still broken.”
Suleiman added: “We saw Amber Guyger cry on the stand, but this (Jean’s) family has been crying for 399 nights.”
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Throughout Dallas, satisfaction with the guilty verdict seemed to be expressed in near-unanimity. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram visited the Dallas Police Association office, which is located just blocks from police headquarters and the South Side Flats, where Jean and Guyger lived at the time of the shooting, to request a comment about the guilty verdict. Officials at the association office declined to comment.
Many Dallas residents had worried that racially-tinged protests or even violence could erupt if Guyger was found not guilty in the murder of Botham Jean, who was eating ice cream in his own apartment when Guyger burst in and killed him.
“We can finally sleep, knowing that justice has been served,” said Tiara M. Tucker, who carried a wreath of red roses outside the courtroom and wore a T-shirt that read “Botham’s Army.”
Tucker, who helped organize a Botham Jean Red Tie Gala last weekend, said she did not know Jean’s family before the shooting but met them at his funeral.
Some Dallasites expressed concern that a light sentence could still prompt protests, especially from residents who have come to view the case as a statement on race relations between residents and police in the community.
But Tucker wasn’t among those worried about the sentence. When asked if she was concerned about whether Guyger’s sentence might not satisfy the Jean family, Tucker said: “Let’s take it one step at a time. This morning, we secured a victory.”
Others expressed satisfaction with the guilty verdict. Jurors could have found Guyger guilty of manslaughter — or even not guilty of any charge — but opted instead for a conviction of the most severe charge.
“I really thought she was going to get off scot-free, even though she killed a man,” Chandra Johnson, an Arlington resident, said as she waited for a train in Dallas’ West End.
Jermaine Harris, who lives in Plano and works at an Irving car dealership, said he was not surprised that the jury didn’t give Guyger a break in her conviction, even though she tearfully explained on the witness stand that she had made a horrible mistake, and that she wished she had died instead of Jean.
Comparing the Jean family’s loss with Guyger’s possible prison sentence, Harris said: “Am I happy? No. Two families are now losing a family member.”
But Guyger’s tears on the stand didn’t excuse her grave mistake, and the consequences she must pay for it, Harris said.
“The tears and remorse shouldn’t have come after the fact,” he said. “The compassion should have been there during the fact (the night of the shooting).”
One of the Jean family’s attorneys, Ben Crump, urged residents not to treat Tuesday’s guilty verdict as the end of the process, especially for Jean’s still-grieving family.
“Don’t think for one second this has done anything for the grieving hole in the hearts of this family,” Crump told a gathering of media outside the courtroom.
Zina West-Lewis, who used to listen to Jean sing when he visited her church, said she screamed for joy immediately after the verdict was read.
“I prayed that God would deliver his grace and mercy and that Jean’s family would have closure,” West-Lewis said. “And God answered my prayers.”
Bridgett Brown said she had been worried about Dallas and that recent police shootings had put her on edge. But with this conviction and that against Roy Oliver, a former Balch Springs officer convicted of murder for shooting and killing a 15-year-old boy, she believes the city has turned a corner.
“Justice was served for Botham and his family,” Brown said. “I would say the city is progressing. Now we have hope.”