Amber Guyger, 31, the former Dallas police officer convicted Tuesday of murdering an unarmed man in his own home last year, was sentenced Wednesday to 10 years behind bars.
Botham Shem Jean, 26, was fatally shot in his apartment after Guyger mistook it for her own apartment, which was located one floor below. Guyger pleaded not guilty and did not testify during the punishment phase of the trial.
Judge Tammy Kemp instructed jurors to decide on a sentence of between five and 99 years unless they agreed that Jean’s death was the result of an unplanned “sudden passion,” a classification that comes with a penalty of two to 20 years.
“We the jury find unanimously that the defendant did not cause the death of Botham Jean while under the immediate influence of sudden passion,” Kemp said, reading from the jury’s verdict. The jury deliberated for an hour and a half before coming to their decision.
“I have to try to keep the family together because everybody’s in pain. I’ve had to get counseling,” Jean’s mother, Allison Jean, said in court. She took the witness stand on Tuesday as Jean family photos were displayed.
Botham Jean, originally from the Caribbean nation of St. Lucia, left home to pursue higher education even though his mother wanted him to stay closer to home. She described her son as a headstrong young man who enjoyed using his talents to help others.
Jean was a 2016 graduate of Harding University, a private Christian school in Arkansas, where he sang in choir and played rugby while he pursued his academic work. His mother said that as part of the youth ministry, her son would go on mission trips and volunteered with the elderly, using his IT background to help at least one couple set up a home computer, his mother said.
“We have a very, very close family,” Allison Jean stated before sharing an emotional story about the time her son surprised her for Mother’s Day in St. Lucia. “I didn’t know he was coming … He used to call me GG, that was short for ‘governor general.’ He said I was his ‘governor general.’ … I heard his voice and I thought I was dreaming.”
At the time of his death, Botham Jean was employed as an associate accountant with PricewaterhouseCoopers. Kerry Ray, a former co-worker who coached Jean, told the court that “everyone who knew Bo had a very high opinion of Bo.”
A close friend from college, Alexis Stossel, began crying when she described her friendship with Jean, which eventually expanded to include her husband.
“I can’t imagine living life without my other ‘person,’” Stossel said of Jean. “Sometimes he would just show up on my doorstep with Chipotle and say, ‘I just have to watch ‘Scandal’ and be quiet for a while,′ so we would just hang out.”
Guyger walked into Jean’s Dallas apartment on Sept. 6, 2018, while he was sitting on his couch watching TV with a bowl of vanilla ice cream and said she mistook Jean for an intruder in her own apartment. Although she was off-duty, Guyger was still wearing her uniform. She fired at Jean twice after he ignored her commands, and then called 911.
Black Lives Matter protests erupted when Guyger was not immediately arrested; her arrest and manslaughter charge came three days later, and she was freed on bail shortly afterward. She was fired from the Dallas Police Department later that month.
Jean knew people of color often receive harsher treatment from police officers in the U.S., so he made a point to dress nicely and abide by the law, his family told The New York Times.
“How could we have lost Botham? Such a sweet boy. He tried his best to live a good, honest life,” Jean’s father, Bertrum Jean, said in court after breaking down in sobs as he recalled teaching his son to cook.
During the punishment phase of Guyger’s trial, prosecutors displayed text messages she sent while working as an officer at a Martin Luther King Jr. parade to suggest she may have harbored racial bias. In one message, she joked the parade would end “when MLK is dead … oh wait … ”
Prosecutors also displayed images Guyger had saved to Pinterest that appeared to celebrate violence, with one reading, “People are so ungrateful, no one ever thanks me for having the patience not to kill them.”
Attempting to secure a lighter sentence, Guyger’s mother, Karen Guyger, told the court her daughter faced adversity as a child including molestation, which led her to wanting to become a police officer from a young age. Her sister also described the remorse Guyger continues to feel about Jean’s death. Other character witnesses included a woman whom Guyger helped after finding her in a drug house; she said Guyger “didn’t just see me as an addict.”
During the first half of the trial, meant to determine whether Guyger was guilty or innocent, the former officer’s defense team had asked the jury to consider Texas’ castle doctrine, a legal protection similar to Florida’s “stand your ground” law that gives legal protections for using deadly force in self-defense. Lawyers for Guyger argued that she “acted as any police officer would” when fearing for her life.
But prosecutors rejected the castle defense, saying that several aspects of Guyger’s environment should have signaled to her that she wasn’t in her own apartment.
A 12-member jury found her guilty of murder after five hours of deliberations.
Guyger expressed tearful remorse for her actions the night of Jean’s death in the first part of the trial, going so far as to say she wished their roles had been reversed
“I feel like a terrible person. I feel like a piece of crap,” she said. “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 feel like I don’t deserve a chance to be with my family and friends. And I wish he was the one with the gun who killed me.”
Hayley Miller contributed to this report.
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