Former Dallas Cop Amber Guyger Sentenced To Ten Years In Prison

After an emotional sentencing hearing that included an extraordinary display of mercy and forgiveness from her victim's family, former Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger was sentenced to ten years in prison.

Just days after being convicted of murder in the death of Haitian immigrant Botham Jean, former Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger was sentenced by a jury yesterday to ten years in prison, a sentence very much on the low end of the 5 to 99 years, or alternatively life without parole, that she could have received:

The white former police officer who shot and killed her unarmed black neighbor in his own apartment was sentenced Wednesday to 10 years in prison — the conclusion of a dramatic trial that spotlighted issues of racial injustice, police accountability and the extraordinary capacity of a victim’s family to forgive a perpetrator.

Amber Guyger, 31, could have faced up to 99 years in the 2018 slaying of Botham Jean, a 26-year-old St. Lucia native, church singer and accountant whose death drew protesters to Dallas streets. On Tuesday, Guyger’s murder conviction was heralded as a rare victory in the national push for policing reform.

But on Wednesday, her sentence was almost immediately met with protest.

In the hallway outside the courtroom, Jean family supporters called the punishment “a slap in the face,” as prosecutors had asked for a sentence no less than 28 years — the age Jean would be if he were still alive. ‘

Inside the courtroom, a stunning scene was unfolding. Jean’s younger brother — described by his family as suffering the most after the shooting — spoke directly to Guyger. He urged her to pray, he forgave her and he asked permission to give her a hug.

“I love you as a person and I don’t wish anything bad on you,” Brandt Jean told Guyger from the stand.

Then, as their families watched, the ex-officer and the brother of the man she killed met in the front of the room and held each other in a long embrace. They were both in tears, and sobs could be heard in the courtroom.

Judge Tammy Kemp, who presided over the case, held a tissue to her eyes and hugged each member of Jean’s family after the trial ended. She then approached Guyger and, in another emotional moment, handed her a Bible and embraced her, too.

It was an unusual, striking conclusion to the high-profile case that reconstructed the night of Sept. 6, 2018.

Guyger claimed she thought she was entering her own third-floor apartment that night. She said she mistook Jean for a burglar and shot him, fearing for her life. Prosecutors argued that Jean posed no threat — he was sitting on a couch in his fourth-floor unit eating ice cream before

Guyger walked in, they said. Jurors agreed and rejected Guyger’s self-defense argument.

Under Texas law, the 12-member jury that convicted Guyger was tasked with determining her punishment. Jurors rejected the “sudden passion” defense, which would have lowered the sentencing range to two to 20 years. But they chose a punishment on the lower end of the five to 99 years allowed for murder.

Legal experts said Guyger’s lack of a criminal record and her career in public service may have played a role in the punishment.

“I would imagine with her being a police officer, even though they found her guilty, there would probably be some individuals on the jury who might be sympathetic to her,” said Kenneth Williams, a professor at South Texas College of Law in Houston.

For a crime of this magnitude, Guyger’s lawyers are likely pleased with the length of the sentence, said Brook Busbee, a law professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

In a post on Twitter, where “Only 10” was among the most talked about phrases Wednesday night, Jean family lawyer Lee Merritt said the sentence was indicative of a broken system, one in which institutional racism is the rule and people of color are treated unjustly.

“Of course that’s inadequate,” Merritt wrote. “The entire justice system is inadequate and the work must continue.”

Before breaking for deliberations, jurors heard from friends and family of both Guyger and Jean, who testified about the far-reaching consequences of their fatal encounter.

Prosecutors asked jurors to consider how the loss of Jean — a loving, encouraging man who spent his short life wanting to help others — reverberated through his family and his community.

“We all were robbed of Botham and the greatness that he brought to Dallas County,” one prosecutor said. “But honestly, who knows what his impact could truly have been had his life not been taken from him.”

More from The Dallas Morning News:

Chants of “no justice, no peace” drifted from the hallway into the the 204th District Court, and then Botham Jean’s 18-year-old brother stepped up to the witness stand Wednesday.

This was Brandt Jean’s chance to tell Guyger exactly what he thought of the former Dallas officer after she was sentenced to 10 years in prison for murdering his brother last year when she mistook his apartment for hers.

There were only two rules for his “victim impact statement”: no threats and no profanity.

What came next was a stunning moment that played out after many had left the courtroom and the world watched online. Even courthouse veterans wept at something they’d never seen before.

Jean took a breath into the microphone and began to speak. He hadn’t told his family what he planned to say, he told Guyger. He spoke for himself, not them.

“If you truly are sorry,” Jean said.  “I know I can speak for myself, I forgive you.”

The prosecution had asked for 28 years — the age Botham would have been on Sunday had Guyger not shot him last September when she was off-duty but still in her police uniform.

Instead, Jean told Guyger that he wanted what Botham would have wanted.

“I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want for you,” he told her. “I love you as a person, and I don’t wish anything bad on you.”

He told Guyger that he didn’t even want her to go to prison.

“Can I give her a hug, please?” Brandt asked. “Please.”

State District Judge Tammy Kemp gave him the OK.

Guyger hesitated for just a moment, and then she rushed toward Jean and wrapped her arms around his neck. He wrapped his arms around her, his hands spread across her back.

They whispered as they embraced, their words heard only by them.

Twice Jean and Guyger started to pull apart but then hugged again. Both were in tears when they finally broke away.

The jury was gone. So was Guyger’s family. Only bailiffs, the attorneys, the Jean family, the judge and a handful of journalists remained.

Kemp wiped away tears, and sobs could be heard in the courtroom.
Jean walked out of the courtroom when he was done. His father, Bertrum, smiled and nodded, giving his son a thumbs-up. Brandt and Botham’s mother, Allison Jean, was in tears.

Kemp then left, too, through a door behind her bench. She soon re-emerged through another door, the one the jury always used to enter and exit. She walked over to the Jean family and hugged them.

“I’m so sorry,” she said to each of them. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you for the way you modeled Christ,” Kemp told Allison Jean.

But Kemp wasn’t done.

Kemp crouched in front of Guyger, still wearing her black robe and gave her a Bible. Those watching on the internet could see the judge and Guyger. But they couldn’t hear what happened.

They spoke quietly, with Guyger in tears and Kemp punctuated the conversation by gesturing at the Bible and saying, “Read this.”

Guyger leaped up to hug Kemp. The judge paused for a second, unsure of what to do.

Then, Tammy Kemp embraced Guyger, who whispered in her ear.

Only the judge’s responses were heard: “Ma’am, it’s not because I am good. It’s because I believe in Christ. None of us are worthy.”

“Forgive yourself.”

Attorneys, bailiffs and journalists wiped away tears as they watched Jean and Guyger hug and as then leaned in to hear Kemp’s words.  A box of tissues was passed around.

They noted — with puffy faces and red noses — that they had never before cried in court. That they had never seen anything quite like what had just happened.

Here’s the video of the encounter between Guyger and Botham Jean’s brother:

When I first saw news of the sentence fly across social media late yesterday afternoon, I was disappointed. While I didn’t think that what effectively would have been a life sentence for the 31-year-old Guyger was necessarily appropriate for a case like this, I suppose I had been hoping for a harsher sentence. Something closer to the 28 years that the prosecution was asking for, perhaps. Ten years, even though the nature of the Texas penal system means she will spend the majority of that time in prison and will not be released until roughly around the time she turns 40, seems light to say the least. That being said, I did not watch most of the trial and cannot place myself in the jury’s place here. This is what they found was appropriate,

As for the encounter between Jean’s brother and Guyger, there really isn’t anything that can be said about it. It was an extraordinary display of forgiveness that I’m not sure I would be capable of. It brings to mind the reaction of the family members of the people who died at the Mother Emanuel Church Shooting when they spoke at the arraignment of the shooter in that case. It was a display of admirable mercy and forgiveness that I will simply let speak for itself.

Regardless of the sentence, the fact that Guyger was, properly, convicted of murder in this case rather than a lesser charge is in some ways solace enough. While this was not an ordinary police shooting case, it does stand out as one of the few cases where a police officer was held responsible for their actions. Hopefully, it’s the beginning of a trend.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Law and the Courts
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. drj says:

    By itself, ten years is perhaps not an excessively short punishment.

    But in the context of both the wider US justice system and the country’s history of racialized violence, it is an utter disgrace.

    I am generally not in favor of harsh sentences, but I am also very much not in favor of a two-tiered justice system, in which some categories of people are treated much, much more leniently than others.

    11
    2
  2. R.Dave says:

    OP wrote: While I didn’t think that what effectively would have been a life sentence for the 31-year-old Guyger was necessarily appropriate for a case like this, I suppose I had been hoping for a harsher sentence.

    As you said, Doug, there really isn’t anything I can say about what Jean’s brother did except acknowledge how admirable and moving it was. As for my own view of the charge and sentence, though, I have to disagree with the seemingly common view that 10-years wasn’t harsh enough. Since Guyger wasn’t on duty, the law should treat her like any other civilian under the circumstances, and the evidence seemed to indicate that her decision to shoot the guy was the result of an honest mistake of fact as to whose apartment she was in and a snap decision to shoot born of genuine (though unreasonable) fear. Lawyers can dicker back and forth over the precise wording of the Texas murder statute and related defenses, but on the basic level of intuitive justice, her being judged a “murderer” by society and sent to prison for a decade seems like a just and proper level of punishment for that kind of wrongful but not malicious act.

    6
    4
  3. R.Dave says:

    @drj: I am generally not in favor of harsh sentences, but I am also very much not in favor of a two-tiered justice system, in which some categories of people are treated much, much more leniently than others.

    I definitely agree, but I think the right response is to point out the disparity and use it to argue for reducing the harshness of sentences imposed on the marginalized group. For example, the right way to correct the disparity between the sentences for crack and powdered cocaine was to reduce the former, not to increase the latter. The right way to correct the injustice of black people being denied the vote in the Jim Crow era was to defend their voting rights, not to deny the vote to white people too. And so on.

    5
    2
  4. Teve says:

    Speaking as someone who lives nine miles from possibly the most dangerous jail in Florida, I wouldn’t like to be a former cop going to prison for 10 days. If I had a 10-year sentence I’d probably try to commit suicide.

  5. KM says:

    Part of the reason we’re all somewhat disappointed by the sentencing is because of Guyger herself.

    If she had been properly remorseful and accepting that she really had “accidentally” killed an innocent man in his own home, then 10 would seem appropriate or even a touch harsh. Instead, she refused a plea deal thinking that being a cop and white woman in TX would let her skate for her crime. She showed zero remorse or care on the body cam, only caring she would “lose her job”. Note, not “go to jail” – because that wasn’t something that happened to cops in her world – but the loss of employment was more pressing to her then incarceration for killing the man they were wheeling by her *still bleeding out*. She then decides to brazen it out and take her chances manipulating a jury by bleaching her hair and laying on the waterworks. Finally, they offer a frankly absurd and offensive defense twisting an already absurd premise and baldly state it doesn’t matter if you are in your own home or not – a gun owner’s right to “defend” themselves trumps your rights, ALL of them.

    One of the reasons for long sentences is the idea that some people need to be kept away from society for our own safety. Someone like Guyger who shoots first and doesn’t even bother to ask questions later is the kind of person you wonder if they can be “rehabilitated”. That kind of mindset doesn’t just go away – the entitlement and carelessness of “feared for my life” shootings is a personality flaw you’d need to work hard to erase. I’d like to think prison would help her reflect and better herself but come on, what are the chances of that? She’ll come out harder, more jaded and far more likely to be aggressive in confrontations. She’ll still shoot first and not ask questions later – she’ll just know to be more careful about evidence this time.

    16
  6. KM says:

    As for the brother, good for him. That’s a level of peace and forgiveness I would like to think I have but know I don’t. The world would be a far better place if we had more people who had the strength of character to do that and truly mean it.

  7. drj says:

    @R.Dave:

    I definitely agree, but I think the right response is to point out the disparity and use it to argue for reducing the harshness of sentences imposed on the marginalized group

    But that is not what is going to happen here, is it?

    “Guyger only got ten years, so let’s do something about excessive sentencing in other cases,” is an argument that is going to be used by exactly nobody.

    Because Guyger didn’t get a much lighter sentence than most other murderes because somebody was trying to make an argument against excessive sentencing, but because she was white, a cop, and “only” shot a black guy.

    So the only lesson that will be drawn from this is that African Americans are still second-class people who deserve less compassion than (fake) blond-haired women.

    I really don’t think that is the right message to send as a society.

    5
    1
  8. dazedandconfused says:

    To me it was on a par with vehicular homicide. She appears to grasp, and accept, the scope of her screw up, “menace to society” she is unlikely to be. Would a big sentence serve as a wake-up notice to other cops? Perhaps, but I suspect that wake-up call is already in the cards. So many municipalities having to fork over big $ to people to settle civil suits over police shootings these days. Just a matter of time before people start questioning how their police are being trained.

    In judging her consider the possibility she may have been the victim of bad training. A great many cops these days are IMO. They are young people who are being conditioned to believe that force protection trumps all, which is the military mindset. Very easy to teach.

    Since the Gulf wars a heck of a lot of ex-mil people have been hired by the academies and only the very big metro depts have the resources to run and maintain their own, which are more generally staffed by experienced metro cops, cops who have at some point been deeply angered and/or frightened but were damn glad they did not shoot anybody.

    However, most cops in this nation are products of generic mills, wherein the military guys tend to be hired. I’m convinced they are unwittingly putting dangerous cops on the street.

  9. EddieInCA says:

    As I said in the other thread, it’s a freaking outrage. Full Stop.

    No one is going to see this sentence and say “Oh, let’s not give the black kid who robbed in liquor store because he was hungry a long sentence”. To think so is just ignoring reality.

    Once again, killing a black man results in an outcome that is outside the norm.

  10. KM says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    She appears to grasp, and accept, the scope of her screw up, “menace to society” she is unlikely to be.

    May I ask what you base that on? Because what we’ve seen from her behavior on the body cam and her body language in court shows only that she grasped the scope of what she had to do to be acquitted. I saw no true remorse or understanding that what she did was wrong – only that she was going to be punished if she didn’t make the right noises about “being sorry”. From the second she shot him till the verdict came down, her actions were focused on getting away with it. She talked about how “bad” she felt and she’d rather it have been her then him…. but didn’t take the plea deal and was still trying to not be convicted for what she did. She grasps what she did sent her to jail – I doubt she accepts it and will not appeal the sentence or serve out her full time instead of trying for parole. As for “menace to society”, she was already that since she killed a guy eating ice cream on his freaking sofa for no reason. Prison tends to harden a person instead of making them a kinder, gentler soul. Do I think she’ll kill again? No, not really but do I think she’s going to be a law-abiding model citizen when she gets out? Hell no – her name will be in a police blotter for something eventually. The stats for ex-cons and her personality flaws are just not in her favor.

    I also don’t think this will be a wake-up call for cops or the citizenry, either. This was such an open and shut case that it’s only because she was a cop that we were even in doubt she’d be convicted. There’s a reason the NRA and the thin blue line didn’t really rally and scream for her defense – they knew this wasn’t the hill to die on and if being a cop got a her a pass, so be it. It’s not going to change police culture since it will be seen as an outlier. She wasn’t on duty so they’ll write it off as “not a procedure problem, a personal one”.

  11. An Interested Party says:

    One of the reasons for long sentences is the idea that some people need to be kept away from society for our own safety. Someone like Guyger who shoots first and doesn’t even bother to ask questions later is the kind of person you wonder if they can be “rehabilitated”. That kind of mindset doesn’t just go away – the entitlement and carelessness of “feared for my life” shootings is a personality flaw you’d need to work hard to erase.

    This is why she should have received a longer sentence…it’s not about “righteous anger” or the “righteous desire to morally punish”…and her receiving a longer sentence would not take away from the idea that mandatory minimums and mass incarceration are wrong and should be ended…

  12. Paul L. says:

    So many municipalities having to fork over big $ to people to settle civil suits over police shootings these days.

    HA HA HA. And most times, the taxpayers foot the bill.
    Police Trainer Dave Grossman.

    Don’t be afraid of being sued. Everyone gets sued. Just a chance for Overtime

  13. dazedandconfused says:

    @KM:

    On her testimony, in which she states she screwed up bad and wishes it had been herself that got killed. When this stuff happens the lawyer’in up starts immediately, so I don’t believe she can be judged by what her legal councilors acted.

    If you think a person can be totally judged by what happens in a few seconds at the heat of the moment you are wrong.

    3
    1
  14. dazedandconfused says:

    @Paul L.:

    Yup, the military mindset as espoused by Grossman is exactly what I am referring to.

  15. Paul L. says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    To be fair, Grossman walked it slightly “You should be afraid of being successfully sued”

  16. KM says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    On her testimony, in which she states she screwed up bad and wishes it had been herself that got killed.

    Wow – you bought that BS? The woman trying to get off of being held accountable for the thing she’s “so sorry” for she wishes she was dead? That she was “so sorry” for she’s *on camera* giving more a shit about her employment for several crucial minutes then stopping the bleeding of the guy she shot and potentially saving his life?? She’s wishes she was dead because she screwed up so bad but oddly enough a year later she’s still breathing to try and convince you not to send her to jail.

    So I got this beachfront property in Montana that’s just lovely this time of year that I really hate to get rid of……

    If you think a person can be totally judged by what happens in a few seconds at the heat of the moment you are wrong.

    W.T.F? Are you trolling right now? I’m sure there’s plenty of murderers on death row who’d *love* to hear you say that as well as lesser criminals like rapists. Have they got testimony for you!! How many criminals can you judge for “just a few seconds”? AOT,K since that’s actually what a trial is – you’re judging them for the seconds /minutes the crime took place!

    She killed a man in cold blood who did nothing but eat $^#%&%#* ice cream in his own home and blamed it on a “mistake” that “a few seconds” of hesitation could have easily prevented. Damn right I’m judging her for that and the fact that she honestly thought she shouldn’t have to take the rap for it. She has done ZERO things in the last year that show she is really and truly sorry. She fought being held accountable for the death – so much for “sorry”. She knows she “screwed up bad” because the jury clearly wasn’t buying her defense that she could invade somebody else’s castle but claim self-defense. Then we find out she has a history of shooting first and asking questions later so no, it wasn’t “a few seconds” but her habitual bad behavior.

    But hey, cute little bottle-blonde white chick fake-cries and we should believe her, right? She’s not a “bad person” so how can you judge her? Ignore her police jacket full of questionable actions in less then 5 years of employment. Ignore her texts, her behavior, her own words and actions on camera – she sobbed out emotional vomit on the stand so benefit of the doubt. It’s not like she could have been lying so she didn’t end up doing time in the slammer, god no!

    JFC, the things people will buy….

  17. KM says:

    @@dazedandconfused:
    Apologies if that last post was a bit rude – this case is really starting to drive me nuts. The extent people seem to be going to give Guyger the benefit of the doubt is leaving an extremely sour taste in my mouth. Jean was a model citizen, active in his church, well-loved by nearly everyone he met….. but it’s his killer that’s getting the pity for an “accident” that was straight-up murder. Add in the later actions of her department trying to smear his good name, giving her privileges that would never be given to you and me and the frankly appalling behavior in court…..

    Her lawyers are not to blame – they can recommend a despicable course of action but she needs to OK it. As a cop, she’s knows damn well Castle’s not for the aggressor. She didn’t have to act like that on the stand – that was her choice, her words, her deliberate actions. She chose to dye her hair blonde, fake tears (and those were fake, you can tell her nose wasn’t running) and basically play up all the tropes of poor liddle’ white girl. All of this is designed for one purpose – to minimize potential punishment. That’s not what the truly repentant do and yet some people just…. take her at her drama-queen words that “she’d rather have died”. It’s baffling to me.

  18. EddieInCA says:

    @KM:

    This! Thank you.

  19. michael reynolds says:

    There’s ten years, and then there’s ten years. A cop in the joint is not going to be in general population, she will likely spend her sentence (however long it ends up being) separated from other prisoners, alone, locked up 23 hours a day, with an hour to walk around an empty outdoor cage. (I don’t know this, it’s just an educated guess.) If she goes into gen pop she will be in danger 24/7. If she’s in isolation ten years will destroy her mentally, psychologically. The system will have a hard time moving her to a less secure facility, even if her behavior inside warrants it, because lower security facilities are unlikely to have the ability to wall her off from the general population.

    In effect this sentence is likely to mean ten years of terror, isolation, and within not too many years, madness. That’s if none of the cons manage to shiv her or burn her alive. I’d guess there’s a 50/50 chance she’ll kill herself.

    Maybe the judge took that into consideration, maybe not. But I don’t think the end result will be leniency.

    As for the brother, every now and then you spot one: the rare actual Christian.

  20. dazedandconfused says:

    @KM:

    Get over yourself.

    Her regrets and horror of the mistake was caught on the body-cams at the scene as well. It “fooled” the family who attended the trial…your abject hatred makes them idiots too, I suppose.

    Cops are people. They screw up. Is that a radical a notion??