One night in September 2018, Alissa Charles-Findley got the call that has upended her family's lives ever since: Her brother, Botham Jean, was dead.
Earlier that evening, off-duty Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, who is white, returned to the apartment complex where she lived, not far from the police station. The way she later told it, she walked through the front door and thought she saw a burglar watching television and eating ice cream in her home. She shot and killed him.
But Jean, a 26-year-old Black accountant, was no burglar; he was her upstairs neighbor. Nor was the apartment Guyger's: She had walked into his home by mistake.
Jean’s death sparked protests across the city. Charged with murder, Guyger faced between five and 99 years in prison. In the end, however, the court sentenced her to only 10, but she’s now appealing the charge in hopes of securing a lesser sentence.
Charles-Findley said this will prolong her family's mourning. “I don’t think I’ve really had time to mourn my brother because it has just been one event after another,” she said. “We had to deal with burying him, picking out a casket, dealing with the Texas Rangers and the case, then the trial comes through. Then after the trial, now it’s the appeal."
She doesn’t forgive Guyger, nor does she think Guyger deserves a lesser sentence. To her, the ex-cop deserved 25 years to life behind bars.
Guyger's attorney Michael Mowla will present arguments for the appeal during a hearing scheduled for April 27. Assistant District Attorney Douglas Gladden will argue on the state’s behalf.
The defense argues the charge should be reduced from murder to criminally negligent homicide. This is because Guyger claims she thought her life was in danger, justifying lethal force. The negligent homicide charge would lessen her jail time to between 180 days and two years. Another hearing would have to take place to determine her new punishment.
The possibility of Guyger getting a lesser sentence disturbs local activist Yafeuh Balogun. “I sincerely hope that DA assistant Gladden presents the best argument to deny the appeal," Balogun told the Observer.
"I think the charge was appropriate, and she should have gotten more time,” Balogun said. “Probation should not be an option. Lesser jail time should not be an option. I'm greatly disturbed by this.”
Balogun was one of the activists behind the initial Botham Jean Boulevard efforts. The City Council recently voted unanimously to rename a portion of Lamar Street after Jean.
The notice of appeal was filed shortly after Guyger’s conviction in 2019. The actual appeal was filed in August in the 5th District Court of Appeals in Dallas.
At the time, Lee Merritt, attorney for the Jean family, said the appeal proves Guyger doesn’t regret her actions.
"After admitting her crime and asking Botham Jean's family for mercy – Guyger's actions in filing this appeal reflect someone who is not repentant but instead was hoping to play on the families sympathies at the time that they were most vulnerable," Merritt said in a statement to CNN.
Additionally, Merritt said the appeal claims Guyger was defending herself, but "the jury was instructed on self defense prior to deliberations and they properly rejected the defense and found Guyger guilty of murder one."
Guyger's attorney did not respond for comment.
For her part, Charles-Findley only wants her family to finally be able to "grieve and mourn Botham properly," she said. "Amber Guyger is making that a little impossible right now."
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