DALLAS (CN) – Former Dallas police officer and convicted murderer Amber Guyger was sentenced Wednesday to 10 years in state prison for killing her unarmed black neighbor in his apartment that she mistook for her own.
Guyger, 31, faced up to a life sentence. Prosecutors asked for a 28 year sentence, noting that Botham Jean, 26, would have turned 28 years old three days ago.
Jurors deliberated for about 90 minutes before reaching a sentencing verdict. They deliberated for less than 24 hours when they found Guyger guilty of murder Tuesday. The jury declined to convict on the lesser charge of manslaughter.
Several supporters of the Jean family shouted “no justice, no peace” outside of the courtroom after the punishment was read, angered by the light sentence.
But Jean’s younger brother, Brandt Jean, selflessly told Guyger that he forgave her as he gave a victim impact statement after the sentence was imposed.
“I am speaking for myself - I love you just like everyone else,” Brandt testified. “I am not going to say I hope you rot and die like my brother did. I personally want the best for you. I don't even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you. I love you as a person.”
Brandt then asked Dallas County District Judge Tammy Kemp for permission to hug Guyger. After initially hesitating, she granted the request. A weeping Guyger ran to Brandt and they embraced for over a minute.
As Guyger composed herself, the judge took the extraordinary step of gifting Guyger a Bible while whispering to her for several minutes at the defense table before embracing her.
Earlier in the day, Guyger’s mother, Karen, 66, wept as she testified about her daughter being sexually assaulted as a small child by one of her boyfriends. She said her daughter stopped her college studies during her junior year when a spot in the Dallas police academy opened for her.
“She said, ‘Mom, I have to take this shot before I lose it,’” Karen said.
Karen said she had trouble understanding her daughter when she called after the shooting.
“She was very upset, I could not understand her,” Karen said. “She was crying so hard. She wanted to take his place, she would always tell me should would take his place, she feels very bad about it.”
Guyger erroneously entered Jean's apartment on the fourth floor of the South Side apartments near downtown Dallas on Sept. 7, 2018, mistaking it for her own on the third floor. She entered the ajar door before firing into the dark at what she believed was an intruder inside, striking Jean in the chest.
The defense testimony Wednesday tried to mitigate severely damaging evidence the prosecution introduced one day earlier. Prosecutors showed jurors text messages and social media posts Guyger made last year joking about the death of Martin Luther King Jr., pepper-spraying parade attendees and killing people.
Guyger declined to testify during the sentencing phase. She would have certainly been asked about the messages on cross-examination.
Prosecutors reminded jurors of the disturbing messages before they began deliberations Wednesday afternoon, telling them to not dismiss the messages as “dark humor or cop jokes” as they are “what was in her heart when no one was looking.”
Defense attorney Toby Shook downplayed the messages as things Guyger said on a whim, asking jurors to compare their own worst moments with how they lived their entire lives.
He cited testimony by Lawanda Clark, who Guyger issued a drug court citation in 2013 and encouraged her to get off drugs. Clark said Guyger later attended her graduation from a drug rehabilitation program and that she is sober today.
Shook discouraged jurors from sentencing Guyger too harshly, arguing the maximum sentence was intended by state lawmakers for “career criminals” who contribute nothing to society. He also asked the jury to ignore “media pressure” regarding other high-profile shooting deaths involving police.
Jean’s father, Bertram Jean, of St. Lucia, broke down as he testified for the prosecution about “making his bottles, feeding him” when he was left alone with Jean shortly after his birth. He testified how Sundays are terrible for him now, as it was their day to talk on the phone about their worship.
“I want to see my son,” he said through tears. “It is so hard.”
Guyger’s older sister, Alana, 37, testified Guyger has worked 40 hours or more a week since she was 16 years old. Alana described Guyger as being “the little sister I looked up to,” saying she was “brave” with “positive energy.”
She said her sister “was so happy she could have a career” where she could help others when she became a cop.
“She expresses to me she feels bad, that she gets to spend time with her family while he cannot with his,” Alana said.
Guyger’s fellow police officer, Cathy Odhiambo, told jurors the two “clicked instantly” when they both started working at a restaurant at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport 10 years ago.
Odhiambo described her friend as a “caring” and “selfless” person.
“Amber is kind, she thinks of everyone else,” she said. “She’s always been there for me, she cares about my kids. This is a girl I love as a friend, she’s been good to me all my life.”
Before testimony began, Judge Kemp ruled outside the presence of the jury that it will have the option to consider a defense of “sudden passion,” which allows the murder conviction to be reduced to a second-degree felony under state law.
Alexis Stossel, a best friend of Jean’s from college, cried as she testified for the prosecution that people would “gravitate” towards him.
“It did not matter if you knew him personally or were just in the same room,” she said. “You felt welcomed by his presence."
Stossel said she “slumped to the floor and screamed ‘wait, wait, wait’” when she was told of his death.
“I called Botham seven times. He did not pick up,” Stossel said. “I have never lost someone this close to me in my life, it’s inexplicable.”Follow @davejourno
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.