Brandt Jean hugs Amber Guyger during his victim impact statement following her sentencing for killing his older brother Botham Jean.
Amber Guyger got 10 years in prison Wednesday for murdering Botham Jean, a sentence that set off angry chants outside the courtroom and an unexpected moment of forgiveness inside.
“If you truly are sorry,” Botham’s 18-year-old brother, Brandt Jean, told Guyger from the witness stand before walking down and embracing her, “I know I can speak for myself, I forgive you.”
The victim’s mother, Allison Jean, said Guyger’s sentence would give the fired officer 10 years to reflect and “change her life.” The native St. Lucian also called for change and a renewed focus on police training in the city where her son died.
“There is much more to be done by the city of Dallas,” she said, addressing a crowd gathered around her on the seventh floor of the courthouse. “The corruption that we saw during this process must stop.”
Prosecutors had asked for no less than 28 years, a reminder that Jean would have celebrated his 28th birthday this week if not for Guyger.
She faced between five and 99 years or life in prison, and the jury considered but rejected a “sudden passion” defense that could have reduced her punishment to two to 20 years.
Guyger, 31, was off-duty but still in uniform the night she killed Jean at the South Side Flats apartments just blocks from police headquarters. She said she mistook his apartment for hers and thought he was a burglar.
After a day of testimony focused on how long Guyger would spend in prison, Jean’s 18-year-old brother said in his victim-impact statement that he wished she didn’t have to serve any time at all.
Instead, he said, he wanted for Guyger what his older brother would have wanted.
“I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want for you,” he told her. “I love you as a person, and I don’t wish anything bad on you.”
“Can I give her a hug, please?” Brandt Jean asked. “Please.”
As soon as the judge said it was OK, Guyger rushed to the victim’s brother and wrapped her arms around him. They held each other in a long embrace, while sobbing could be heard in the courtroom. State District Judge Tammy Kemp wiped away tears during the moment.
The Judge also presented Amber Guyger with a Bible and hugged her moments after slain accountant’s brother embraced the killer cop and forgave her.
Gathered outside the courtroom, activists shocked by the sentence began chanting, “No justice, no peace.”
Dee Crane, the mother of Tavis Crane, a young black man who was fatally shot by an Arlington police officer, cried as she asked: “How many of us does it take to get justice?”
“What about my son? What about Botham Jean?” Crane said through tears. “How many of us is it going to take before you understand that our lives matter?”
Later, Botham Jean’s mother, Allison Jean, said the Dallas Police Department has “a lot of laundry to do,” calling for better training of officers.
“If this was applied in the way that it ought to have been taught, my son would have been alive today,” she said. “If Amber Guyger was trained not to shoot in the heart, my son would be standing here today.”
“We love you, Mrs. Jean!” someone called out as attorneys escorted the family away.
‘How could it be possible?’
Before jurors delivered their decision on Guyger’s punishment, they heard tearful testimony from those who knew Jean best.
His father, Bertrum Jean, told the jury he longed to see his oldest son again.
“How could it be possible?” he said, shaking his head and dabbing at his eyes with a white handkerchief. “I’ll never see him again.”
Botham Jean’s father Bertrum Jean breaks down on the witness stand talking about the day he buried his son.
Every day is a struggle, he said, but Sundays are especially difficult.
Every week after worship services, Botham Jean talked to his father in St. Lucia about what had happened in church.
He still can’t watch videos of Botham singing.
“I’m still not ready for it,” he said. “It hurts me that he’s not there.”
Prosecutor LaQuita Long displayed a photo of Bertrum and Allison Jean at their son’s funeral. She asked what was going through his head when it was taken.
“How could that happen to us, our family?” Bertrum Jean said through tears. “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?”
A juror wiped away tears with the collar of her denim jacket as Jean broke down on the stand. Then other jurors began to wipe their eyes.
A final appeal to the jury
In the prosecution’s closing arguments, Long urged the jurors to consider Jean’s loved ones as they deliberated Guyger’s punishment.
Long, clutching a photo taken at Jean’s burial, told the jury it shouldn’t consider a lighter sentence based on a sudden passion defense. He didn’t provoke his own death, she said.
“The only reason we all sit in this courtroom today is because of her actions,” Long said. “And for her actions, there must be consequences.”
Assistant District Attorney LaQuita Long shows the jury a photo of Botham Jean’s parents grieving during closing remarks in the sentencing phase of Amber Guyger’s murder trial. In his closing arguments, Guyger’s attorney Toby Shook pleaded for leniency.
He acknowledged the jury had seen her offensive social media posts and racist text messages, but he called them only a “snapshot” of her life.
Amber Guyger spent the night in jail after she was convicted Tuesday of murdering Botham Jean. Dallas County Sheriff’s Office.
Shook argued that Guyger’s true character was apparent through her relationship with her friends and family.
He also implored jurors not to punish his client harshly because of other high-profile police shootings.
“This event wasn’t planned,” Shook said. “This event is so unique, you’ll never see it again in the history of the United States.”
He said lengthier punishments should be reserved for dangerous, deliberate criminals — not people who have made mistakes.
“Amber Guyger has a conscience. She’s shown true remorse,” Shook said. “She feels horrible for what she did, and for the rest of her life, every day, every hour, every minute, she’ll think of what she did to Botham Jean and regret it in every bit of her soul.”
Guyger’s family testifies
Guyger, who turned her head slightly to watch each attorney speak, did not testify during the sentencing phase of her trial.
The first defense witness was her mother, who told the jury how Guyger hasn’t been the same since shooting Jean. Karen Guyger said her daughter has told her repeatedly that she wished it was Jean who had shot her when she entered the unarmed man’s home.
“She always would tell me she wishes she could’ve taken his place. She feels very bad about it,” she said through tears, holding a crumpled tissue.
Early in the trial, Guyger’s defense had told jurors she’d faced adversity early in life and had interactions with police that made her want to be an officer when she grew up.
On Wednesday, her mother told the jury how she had called police when Guyger was 6, after she realized a man she was dating had molested her daughter.
Alana Guyger, Amber Guyger’s sister, said that since shooting Jean, her sister “doesn’t have the same light or energy that she had before.”
“She’s expressed to me how she feels bad spending time with her family because he can’t be with his,” Alana Guyger said.
The defense also called on close friends from Guyger’s childhood to testify on her behalf.
Maribel Chavez recalled fond memories of Guyger from high school mariachi band.
They remained friends as adults and Chavez said that the former officer was a protector who loved being around people but that everything has changed since the shooting.
“She does not feel like she deserves to have any kind of happiness,” Chavez said.
After the 10-year sentence was announced, District Attorney John Creuzot said he’d expected a longer sentence.
“Over 37 years, I have seen so many cases,” he said. “I have long stopped trying to guess what a jury would do, and I have learned to accept their judgment.”
He said the Jean family also accepted the outcome.
“They’re happy that this is done, that she’s been held accountable, and it’s over,” Creuzot said.
As the sun set, a crowd formed on the steps outside the courthouse to protest the sentence, which many believed was insufficient.
Omar Suleiman, a civil rights activist and imam, acknowledged the grace Jean’s younger brother had shown in hugging and forgiving Guyger but said it doesn’t suggest people shouldn’t fight against injustice.
“If you’re going to talk about the grace of his brother, then talk about the outrage of his mother,” Suleiman said.
Activist Dominique Alexander, who had planned the gathering as a celebration of Guyger’s guilty verdict, expressed disgust that Guyger faced only 10 years in prison.
“What justice did today was slap us back in the face with levels of injustice,” he said. The protesters called for wholesale changes at the Dallas Police Department and for firing Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata.
At a news conference Wednesday evening, Dallas Police Chief U. Reneé Hall said parts of the trial had concerned her.
Although she did not mention Mata by name, she described testimony that he had tampered with an in-car video camera after Guyger was placed in the vehicle.
Hall also said she planned for internal affairs to investigate Officer Martin Rivera, Guyger’s former police partner, who deleted texts with Guyger that outlined their sexual relationship.
Botham Jean’s father said that despite his family’s deep pain, they have found comfort in faith.
“We have mourned,” Bertrum Jean said. “We have wept. But we trust that God will do the rest.”