DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – A jury sentenced former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, who was convicted of murdering her neighbor, Botham Shem Jean in his own home to ten years in prison.
A crowd outside of the courtroom started screaming even before the decision was read. Judge Tammy Kemp asked bailiffs to tell them to “cut that out.”
Jean’s family sat silently after the sentence was read, and looked “shell-shocked,” according to CBS 11 Producer Kelsey Mittauer, who covered the trial.
Supporters of the Jean family started screaming outside the hallway, “No justice, no peace!” Civil rights groups and activists outside the courtroom told CBS 11 News that the sentence is insufficient.
Eventually the Jean family met with jurors in the hallway.
Not long after, Botham’s younger Brandt delivered a heart-felt victim impact statement, telling Guyger, “I forgive you. I know if you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you. I love you just like anyone else. I am not going to say I hope you die just like my brother did… I personally want the best for you. I don’t even want you to go to jail… because that’s exactly what Botham would want to. Again I love you, as a person.”
Botham’s mother, Allison Jean addressed reporters, saying, “Yesterday we saw the conviction. Today — ten years in prison. That ten years in prison is for reflection and for her to change her life. But there is much more to be done by the city of Dallas. The corruption we saw must stop.”
Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot commented Guyger’s sentencing.
“In over 37 years I’ve seen so many cases… I have long stopped trying to guess what a jury would do and I have long accepted their judgment. Personally I expected perhaps longer, but I respect what they did. They gave us their time, they gave this case their attention and they reached what they thought was a just verdict.”
The Dallas NAACP President Aubrey C. Hooper released the following statement on the sentencing:
“While we disagree that 10 years is an adequate consequence for a Botham’s murder, we applaud the prosecution for its relentless efforts to seek justice for Botham. Time and time again, we have seen that convictions of members of the law enforcement community are extremely rare which is a tragedy within itself, especially when unarmed and defenseless people of color are the victims. However, we applaud the jurors of Dallas County for having the courage to look at the facts of the case a render the appropriate verdict in this case. We fully understand and recognize that no amount of prison time for convicted murder Amber Guyger will bring back Botham’s future or return him to his family, but we pray that the Jean family can work towards some degree of closure as they continue to struggle with the huge void that is now missing from their family.”
On Tuesday a jury of eight women and four men found Guyger guilty of murdering Jean, 26.
The court heard more evidence during the sentencing phase, including racially insensitive text messages Guyger shared with other officers – including her former partner and extramarital lover Sgt. Martin Rivera.
During the 2018 Martin Luther King Day parade a message sent to Guyger said, “When does this end lol”. She responded, “When MLK is dead… oh wait….”
Prosecutors also showed the jury some of Guyger’s alleged social media posts that promoted police violence against civilians. One banner she posted said, “I wear all black to remind you not to mess with me, because I’m already dressed for your funeral.”
Attorneys representing the Jean family in a civil suit said the new evidence showed Guyger’s true intent.
“We believe that it paints a completely different picture than the crying, tearful, remorseful person who was on the stage,” said lawyer Lee Merritt.
Before the jury entered court Wednesday morning, Judge Kemp clarified that the prosecution had no objection to the defense request that Sudden Passion be included as part of the charge against Guyger. Texas law defines sudden passion as “passion directly caused by and arising out of provocation by the individual killed.”
If the jury accepts that Guyger’s actions were taken in the heat of the moment, it could reduce the sentencing range to two to 20 years.
Testimony in the sentencing phase resumed just before 10 a.m.
The first person to take the stand for the prosecution was Alexis Stossel, Botham’s friend and former Harding University college mate.
The second person to go before the court Wednesday was Botham’s father – Bertrum Jean. “My son Botham’s dear to me. I reflect on the great memories… having him as a babe,” he told the jury.
Bertrum Jean testified how he kept his son by his side from a very young age. “It didn’t matter what time it was, I just wanted him with me,” he said as he broke down crying.
He questioned, “How could that happen to us — our family. How could we have lost Botham? Such a sweet boy. He tried his best to lead a good, honest life. He loved God. He loved everyone. How could this happen to him?”
After Bertrum Jean’s testimony the prosecution rested and the defense announced they were calling Guyger’s mother to the stand. The judge then called a 20 minute recess.
At 11 a.m. Amber’s mother, Karen Guyger, took the stand.
After testifying about the family structure and her divorce from Amber’s father, Karen Guyger testified that a man she was dating in 1995 sexually assaulted Amber when she was 6 years old. She testified the man was later arrested for indecency with a child and pled guilty.
Karen Guyger testified that her daughter quit college because she was excited about an opportunity with the Dallas Police Department. “She found out that there was a spot in the academy and she said ‘Mom if I don’t take it now I may lose my chance,’ so she went on to apply for the school – to be a police officer,” Karen Guyger told the court.
Defense lawyers then turned their attention to the night of Botham Jean’s shooting. Karen Guyger said her daughter called her but, “I had trouble understanding her. She was crying. She was very upset. I couldn’t understand her when she first told me.”
Before becoming upset Amber’s mother said of the shooting, “She feels very bad about it. She feels bad about it.”
Amber’s older sister, Alana, took the stand and testified about how the molestation affected Amber and the family and the subsequent counseling they underwent.
She said her sister “was so happy that she was going to be able to have a career where she could help others in need”. As to becoming a police officer Alana Guyger told the court her sister “was so happy that she was going to be able to have a career where she could help others in need”.
Her sister then said, “She’s expressed to me how she feels bad spending time with her family because he [Botham] can’t be with his.”
Several officers from the Dallas Police Department then testified on Amber’s behalf. First up was Officer Kathy Odhiambo who said she knew Guyger for more than 10 years. She testified, “She always wanted to be a police officer. Everybody around her knows that was her dream since she was a little girl.”
Dallas Detective Rhonda Richeson, Guyger’s field training officer, then went before the court. She testified that she was a part of Guyger’s fourth-phase training. “Amber came to me ready to be out on the streets. It was a pleasure to train… to sit with her,” she said.
When Dallas SWAT Officer Thomas MacPherson took the stand he explained that he and Guyger were in the same academy class and later worked the same shift on the force. Saying Guyger was “someone you could depend on” he was asked about the evening of July 7 when police officers in downtown Dallas were ambushed and five of them lost their lives.
Officer MacPherson said he and Guyger went to El Centro College and even though they heard gunshots after getting out of the squad car, “I distinctly remember Amber being so brave.”
MacPherson also testified about working with Guyger on the DPD Crime Reduction Team (CRT) agreeing that she was a hard worker who he had no doubt always had his back.
The prosecution then questioned MacPherson about a text thread that several CRT officers are a part of. Referring to a derogatory name members of the text thread used for a supervisor prosecutors said, “You just displayed to this jury that she [Guyger] was a respectful person and she respected others and I said ‘it has been times when she has not been as respectful of the individuals that supervise her, and other individuals, either with the Dallas Police Department and or in the community.’” MacPherson agreed the statement was correct but said actions like that are something he felt was “out of character” for Guyger.
After MacPherson two of Guyger’s friends took the stand and testified as to her good character.
Maribel Chavez, a high school friend who said she met Guyger during orchestra practice, said Guyger was typically bubbly and extroverted, but that since she killed Jean ‘it’s like you shut her light off’.
She described her friend as selfless, caring and a protector of those around her.
The last person on the stand before the break was LaWanda Clark, a self professed recovering crack cocaine addict. She said when she encountered Guyger during a 2017 drug bust she was issued a citation. Clark testified, “She said ‘now you can do one of two things with this ticket.’ She said ‘you can either continue on the road that you’re on or you can let this be your ticket out’ and that’s what I chose to do.”
Clark said she eventually graduated from a community drug treatment program and Guyger attended the ceremony.
Court went into recess and resumed around 1:35 p.m. with the judge inquiring as to councils allotted times for closings. Judge Kemp then made it clear that there should be no conversations, comments or outbursts in the gallery.
“I know you all are all emotionally invested in this, but it is really not fair for you to have commentary to the testimony that’s being provided,” she said. “The triers of fact are sitting in the jury box and whatever commentary you’re having or saying is not coming from the witness stand, so it shouldn’t be art of their consideration.”
Judge Kemp went on to further say there would be consequences if her instructions were violated. “If you have commentary or you have reactions to the arguments of council, be that on either side, I’m gonna ask that the bailiffs remove you.”