Former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger sentenced to 10 years in prison in murder of Botham Jean

Texas Tribune News

Former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger is escorted from the courtroom after she was found guilty of murder by a 12-person jury in the 204th District Court at the Frank Crowley Courts Building in Dallas on Oct. 1, 2019.
Former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger is escorted from the courtroom after she was found guilty of murder by a 12-person jury in the 204th District Court at the Frank Crowley Courts Building in Dallas on Oct. 1, 2019.
REUTERS/Tom Fox

A Dallas County jury sentenced former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, 31, to 10 years in prison Wednesday after deliberating for about 90 minutes. The same jury found Guyger guilty of murder Tuesday morning.

Guyger, who is white, shot and killed unarmed 26-year-old Botham Jean, who was black, in his own apartment. She said she mistook Jean’s apartment as her own and thought he was a burglar. Guyger lived one floor directly below Jean. She was off duty, but still in her uniform when she shot Jean.

After the jury handed down a conviction Tuesday, the court turned to the punishment phase of the hearing. The jury heard from character witnesses for Jean and Guyger, with both parties’ parents speaking to the jury.

Prosecutors also showed jurors offensive text messages from Guyger where she said she was racist and made discriminatory comments against black officers at the Dallas Police Department.

In a closing statement, a Dallas County prosecutor asked the jury to hand down a sentence of no less than 28 years, symbolic for how old Jean would have become days ago. In Texas, a murder conviction can result in a sentence ranging from five years to life in prison.

Before they entered into deliberations, Judge Tammy Kemp told jurors that they could also consider if Guyger killed Jean in a “sudden passion” that arose out of provocation, according to WFAA. In Texas, if the jury accepted that argument, the sentence range drops from two to 20 years. The jury rejected the sudden passion defense.

After the sentence was announced, a small crowd gathered in the foyer outside the courtroom, yelling and crying in frustration over what they said was too short of a sentence, as shown by a WFAA livestream.

“No justice, no peace,” they chanted.

But inside the courtroom, Jean’s 18-year-old brother, Brandt, told Guyger in a victim’s impact statement that the forgave her and that he loved her like anyone else.

“I don’t want to say twice or for the hundredth time how much you’ve taken from us. I think you know that,” he started. “… I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want.”

Brandt said the best thing for Guyger to do would be the give her life to Christ. He then turned to the judge and asked an unusual question.

“I don’t know if this is possible, but can I give her a hug please?”

Guyger and Jean met in the middle of the courtroom and embraced hard, crying. Sobs could be heard from the gallery.

Afterward, Kemp descended from the bench to talk to and hug both Jean’s family and, later, Guyger herself. Jean’s mother, Allison Jean, told the media afterward that “10 years in prison is 10 years for her reflection and for her to change her life,” but she said Dallas had a lot of work to do to prevent future shootings like the one that killed her son.

Changa Higgins, a member of the Dallas Community Police Oversight Coalition, said the city’s energy is more volatile after the relatively short sentence. He said the guilty verdict gave people hope, and then the sentence length took it away.

“All that forgiveness shit, I don’t understand it,” he said, referring to Brandt Jean hugging Guyger. “You didn’t get justice, but at the same time, that is their prerogative.”

At trial, testimony alleged that Guyger and her partner, Martin Rivera, had deleted their text messages around the time of the shooting, and Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata had in-car cameras turned off so he could talk to Guyger unrecorded. Hours after Guyger was sentenced, Dallas Police Department Chief U. Reneé Hall held a press conference and announced that the department’s internal affairs division would investigate those allegations now that the trial was over.

Guyger’s murder conviction is the third for Dallas area police officers in the last two years. All involved shootings of unarmed people of color. Former Balch Springs officer Roy Oliver, who is white, was sentenced to 15 years last year in the on-duty shooting death of a black 15-year-old, Jordan Edwards. In January 2018, Ken Johnson, a black officer in Farmers Branch, got a 10-year sentence after chasing and repeatedly shooting 16-year-old Jose Cruz after catching him breaking into his car.

While the Guyger jury deliberated, Botham Jean’s family attorneys spoke to the media and said the shooting is about race as well as poor officer training.

“To ignore race is to allow the situation to continue to perpetuate itself without coming up with any real solutions because we all want to walk around and pretend that we live in a race-neutral society,” attorney Lee Merritt said.

Juan Pablo Garnham contributed to this story.