A jury sentenced a former Dallas police officer to 10 years in prison Wednesday for the shooting death of her unarmed neighbor in his home last year. Amber Guyger wasby the same jury in the death of Botham Jean.
The sentence was met with boos and jeers by a crowd gathered outside the courtroom. But Jean's younger brother, Brandt Jean, in a victim impact statement after the sentence, told Guyger he forgave her and loved her as he would any other person. He asked the judge if he could hug Guyger, and the two embraced as Guyger sobbed.
"I'm not going to say I hope you rot and die, just like my brother — I personally want the best for you," Brandt Jean, 18, said. "I wasn't going to say this in front of my family or anyone, but 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 Jean said Guyger should give her life to Christ, because that's what his brother would have wanted. Jean was known for his volunteer work and his kindness to others.
Judge Tammy Kemp then got down off the bench, and spoke with Jean's family members and embraced them. Kemp then spoke with Guyger and gave her a Bible. The judge and Guyger also embraced.
Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot said Brandt Jean's gesture was "an amazing act of healing and forgiveness that's rare in today's society."
"In 37 years, I'm trying to go back in my memory bank to see if I've ever seen anything like that and I don't think I have," Creuzot said. "I think that young man was speaking with his heart."
Creuzot said Brandt Jean's words brought many in his office and in the courtroom to tears.
"That man is 18, and he's a leader," Creuzot said. "He should guide us in healing."
On Wednesday night, dozens of demonstrators marched through parts of downtown Dallas to protest Guyger's sentence as too lenient, sometimes blocking traffic on heavily traveled streets outside the courts building and through the western section of downtown. One woman was taken into custody after it appeared she didn't follow police orders to clear the street and move to the sidewalk.
About 30 protesters chanted "No justice, no peace; no racist police" and "Amber alert!" as they marched through the streets surrounded by up to a dozen police officers, some in riot gear. Around 20 other demonstrators remained outside the courts building and jail.
The sentencing capped an emotional trial that launched with opening statements September 23.Guyger, who is white, said she mistook Jean's apartment for her own when she found his door ajar and opened fire, thinking he was an intruder. Jean, a black St. Lucia native who worked as an accountant, had been sitting on his couch eating ice cream.
Her defense team argued that she made a "series of horrible mistakes," but prosecutors said Guyger missed multiple signs she was in the wrong place, confronted Jean with the intent to kill and failed to help Jean after she shot him.
Guyger faced anywhere from five years to up to life in prison. The jury rejected athat would have reduced the sentencing range from 2 to 20 years. Prosecutors argued for a sentence of no less than 28 years — the age Jean would have turned on Sunday.
Since delivering their guilty verdict on Tuesday, jurors heard testimony and evidence from prosecutors and defense attorneys in the trial's punishment phase before they reconvened Wednesday to weigh Guyger's sentence.
Prosecutors pointed to Guyger's racially insensitive text messages and social media posts espousing violence, suggesting it showed her true character. One meme Guyger saved on Pinterest read: "People are so ungrateful — no one ever thanks me for having the patience not to kill them."
Another Pinterest post read: "I wear all black to remind you not to mess with me, because I'm already dressed for your funeral." Guyger commented beneath the image, "Yeah I got meh a gun, a shovel and an gloves if i were u back da f---- up and get out of me f---- a---."
Jurors saw text messages from Guyger's phone sent as she worked a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Dallas in 2018. When she received a message asking when the parade ended, she responded, "When MLK is dead...oh wait..."
She also made racist comments about fellow officers who are African-American. Prosecutors showed a text from her police partner that read: "Damn, I was at this area with five different black officers. Not racist but damn"
Guyger replied: "Not racist but just have a different way of working and it shows."
Lee Merritt, a civil attorney representing the Jean family, said the evidence "paints a completely different picture than the crying, tearful, remorseful person who was on the stage."
Prosecutors also pointed to emotional testimony from Jean's family and friends recounting the devastating impact his loss has had on their lives.
Jean's father, Bertrum Jean, took the stand Wednesday and broke down as he testified.
"How could we have lost Botham, such a sweet boy? He tried his best to live a good, honest life. He loved God. He loved everyone. How could this happen to him?" Jean said, crying. "In hindsight -- what could we have done? My family is broken-hearted. How could it be possible? We'll never see him again. And I want to see him, I still want to see him."
Guyger's attorney Toby Shook asked jurors not to judge Guyger's character solely based on the text messages and social media posts, but on her life as whole. He pointed to testimony from her family and friends describing her as kind and loving and as someone who wanted to help others through public service.
Among those to testify in support of Guyger was Officer Cathy Odhiambo, who described Guyger as a longtime friend who dreamed of being a police officer when they waited tables at a TGI Fridays. She said the two of them went through the academy and them came through the police ranks together.
"Everybody that knows her knows that Amber is the sweetest person," said Odhiambo.
LaWanda Clark, who is black, said she met Guyger when the former officer busted a drug house, and that it helped change her life. She was struggling with a crack cocaine addiction, and that Guyger, while ticketing her, told her it could be the catalyst for turning around her life. She said Guyger treated her as a person, not an addict, and that she's now sober.
As Clark spoke, Guyger's lawyers showed jurors a photo of Guyger attending Clark's graduation from a community drug treatment program.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday,said she hoped Guyger's prison term would be a time of reflection for her and a chance for her to change her life. Jean blasted the Dallas Police Department and said their training needs to be overhauled.
"If Amber Guyger was trained not to shoot in the heart, my son would be alive today," she said. "He was no threat to her. He had no reason to be a threat to her, because he was in his own apartment."
Guyger will be eligible for parole after serving five years in prison.
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