Courts

'It Feels Like We Were Sentenced Too': For Botham Jean Family, the Trauma Never Ends

Amber Guyger is serving her sentence at the Mountain View Unit in Coryell County.
Amber Guyger is serving her sentence at the Mountain View Unit in Coryell County. Flashit Photography
For the last few years, former Dallas Police officer Amber Guyger has hoped to appeal her conviction and sentencing for killing an unarmed man in his apartment in 2018. But now that the state’s highest criminal court upheld her murder conviction and 10-year prison sentence Wednesday, Guyger may be running out of options.

Meanwhile, the family of the man she shot and killed says they haven't had the proper chance to mourn their loved one, 26-year-old Botham Jean, throughout the years-long saga surrounding the fatal shooting.

Guyger fatally shot Jean, who is Black, after she entered his home on Sept. 6, 2018. He was eating ice cream when Guyger came in. Guyger says she thought it was her place and he was an intruder, so she shot him. Guyger lived on the floor above Jean.

She was arrested, fired from the department and indicted for murder.

She was convicted and sentenced in 2019 and made an appeal last year. Guyger was hoping to receive a lesser sentence through her appeal, arguing she should be charged with criminally negligent homicide instead of murder.

After the appeal was filed, Lee Merritt, the Jean family's attorney, said it proved 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 family's sympathies at the time that they were most vulnerable," Merritt told CNN.

Guyger thinks the charge should be reduced because she thought her life was in danger, justifying lethal force. Guyger faced up to 100 years behind bars for the murder charge. The sentence for criminally negligent homicide is between 180 days and two years. She also argued that because she thought she was in her own apartment, she shouldn't be culpable for murder.

"I don’t think we’ll ever get a chance to sit and grieve Botham.” – Alissa Charles-Findley, Jean's sister

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But the Court of Criminal Appeals declined to hear Gugyer’s appeal on Wednesday. The Dallas Morning News reported on the decision shortly after it happened. Guyger’s attorney, Michael Mowla, didn’t respond to a request for comment. The appeals court has final appellate jurisdiction over criminal cases. This means Guyger has few, if any, options left for her appeal.

After the appeal was filed last year, Alissa Charles-Findley, Jean’s sister, told the Observer her family’s mourning has been prolonged.

“I don’t think I’ve really had time to mourn my brother because it has just been one event after another,” Charles-Findley said at the time. “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."

Charles-Findley said she didn’t feel much different after the conviction and sentencing was appealed this week.

“There’s no sense of relief or that we can move on when these appeals keep popping up,” she said. I’m taking it one day at a time. I don’t think we’ll ever get a chance to sit and grieve Botham.”

With a pending civil suit against the city and Guyger up for parole in 2024, Charles-Findley said the future is uncertain for her and her family.

“There’s so much a grieving family has to deal with. It adds to our trauma,” she said. “It feels like we were sentenced too.”
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn