After less than two hours of deliberation Wednesday afternoon, a Dallas County jury sentenced former Dallas Police Department officer Amber Guyger to 10 years in prison for the murder of Botham Jean.
Guyger killed Jean, a 26-year-old accountant, after she entered his apartment in the Cedars, believing it was her own. Guyger heard movement inside Jean's apartment, she said at trial, and went inside believing she was about to confront a burglar.
After District Judge Tammy Kemp read Guyger's sentence, activists flooded the seventh-floor atrium at Frank Crowley Courts Building, where TV cameras have posted up for the duration of the now eight-day trial.
"When it comes to a black person getting justice, in this system, this is what we see continuously," the Next Generation Action Network's Dominique Alexander said. "Is this enough for a life being taken?"
Back inside the courtroom, Jean's family spoke directly to Guyger.
"I don't want to say twice or for the hundredth time what you or how much you've taken from us," said Brandt Jean, Botham Jean's brother. "I hope you go to God with all the guilt and all the bad things you've done in the past. Each and every one of us may have done something that we're not supposed to do. If you truly are sorry, I can speak for myself. I forgive you."
Brandt Jean said he loves Guyger just like any other person and wants the best for her.
"I wasn't ever going to say this in front of my family or anyone. I don't even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you because that's exactly what Botham would do," Brandt Jean said. "I don't wish anything bad on you."
Brandt Jean then asked Judge Kemp for permission to hug Guyger and embraced a weeping Guyger.
Jean's mother, Allison Jean, didn't address Guyger directly. Speaking with the media outside the courtroom, Jean criticized the Dallas Police Department's initial handling of the crime scene, as well as Guyger's training.
"That 10 years in prison is 10 years for (Guyger's) reflection and for her to change her life, but there is much more to be done by the city of Dallas. The corruption that we saw during this process must stop," Allison Jean said. "It must stop for you, because I'm leaving Dallas, but you live in Dallas. It must stop for everyone ... If Amber Guyger was trained not to shoot in the heart, my son would be standing here today."
Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot did his best to answer critics who thought the sentence was too light.
"The only thing I can tell you is that, over 37 years, I have seen so many cases and, to be honest with you, I have long stopped trying to guess what the jury would do and I've learned to accept their judgment. They heard the case and we didn't," Creuzot said. "Personally, I expected perhaps longer, but I respect what they did."
Before the jury made their decision, they heard from Jean’s father and a college friend.
“Next to my husband, Botham was my absolute person,” Alexis Stossel said, her voice breaking.
Stossel was best friends with Jean, whom she met in college at Harding University in Arkansas, where they served together on a student advisory committee. He was a natural leader, she said.
Stossel told the courtroom how close she and Jean were, even after she started dating the man who would eventually become her husband. She told her husband Jean would always be in her life, and the three became an inseparable trio, cooking, attending sporting events and supporting each other.
When Stossel moved home to East Texas, she and Jean kept in touch by phone call and text message. The day he was shot, Stossel and Jean texted briefly. He sent her a meme he made of an embarrassing photo of the two of them taken shortly after they moved to Dallas. She did not see his final response to the text chain, “lol,” until the next day, after she was awakened by an early morning phone call telling her he had been shot and killed.
“I slumped to the floor, and I kept screaming, 'Wait, wait wait,'” she said. “I called Botham seven times, and there was no answer.”
Jean’s father, Bertrum Jean, also took the stand and recalled how he took care of Jean, preparing his bottles when he was a baby and ferrying him to and from school. He wanted to be with his son every minute that he could and ignored his friends’ teasing about how close the two were.
After Jean went away to college, it became a Sunday morning tradition for the father and son to talk after church. Bertrum Jean broke down sobbing several times on the stand but insisted on continuing to speak.
“How could that happen?" he said. "My family is brokenhearted. How could it be possible that I’ll never see him again?"
In support of Guyger, several Dallas Police Department officers spoke about their time with her at the academy and how dependable and caring she was. Officer Thomas MacPherson was with Guyger the night in 2016 that five police officers were killed by a gunman in downtown Dallas. He told the jury how brave Guyger was and how she was ready to get out of the car and run toward the gunshots.
Guyger’s mother recalled how her daughter was always interested in law enforcement. When a spot came open in the police academy, she jumped at the chance.
Two of her friends, Mirabel Chavez and Brenda Sales, recalled Guyger as silly and fun and a loving protector. Since the shooting, Guyger has been remorseful, they both said. She's noticeably different from the woman they knew before.
“It’s like you shut her light off,” Chavez said.
Prosecutors and Guyger's defense team agreed to allow the jury to consider that Guyger may have shot Jean as a result of "sudden passion," which would have downgraded Guyger's conviction to a second-degree felony. The jury did not find that to be the case.
In a statement, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson thanked the jury for its service in "this unprecedented case."
"This has been a difficult year for our city," Johnson said. "Botham Jean was a man who had so much to offer society and who represented the very best of Dallas. No amount of earthly justice could ever fill the void created by this crime.
"My thoughts are and will continue to be with the Jean family. I was deeply moved by Brandt Jean’s words and actions in the courtroom today during his victim impact statement. I will never, ever forget the incredible examples of love, faith and strength personified by Botham, Brandt and the entire Jean family.
"As a city, we have challenges to address, but I hope that this day will give the Jean family some measure of peace and that our city can begin to heal."
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.