Former Dallas Officer Sentenced in Death of Botham Jean

Last Sunday, on September 29, slain Dallas resident Botham Jean should have been commemorating himself on turning 28-years-old with his family. Instead, a former Dallas patrol officer was on trial for his murder.

In September 2018, Jean was inside of his apartment eating ice cream when an off-duty Dallas patrol officer shot and killed him with her service weapon. Amber Guyger defended that she had mistaken Jean’s apartment for her own, despite the plenitude of indicators that she had been entering someone else’s home. Guyger has reiterated that she heard movement inside of the apartment and pushed inside with the intent to kill the presumed intruder. 

In Texas, a white police officer being sentenced to prison for the murder of an unarmed black man seems impractical and out of the question. That interpretation altered for most Texans when Guyger was pronounced guilty and sentenced to ten years in prison. Guyger said that fear had prompted her to pull the trigger, not racism.

https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/10/02/amber-guyger-sentencing-her-mugshot-and-her-offensive-texts/

 “This is not about hate,” she testified in the courtroom. “It’s about being scared.”

Racist and violent phone messages sent by Guyger had already played an important role in her trial, when the state argued that a sexually explicit exchange with her partner at the Dallas Police Department preoccupied her as she headed to Jean’s apartment, which was on an entirely separate floor. The defense disputed the claim, stating that the pair had ended an affair months prior, and that she had mistakenly entered Jean’s apartment because she was tired after a nearly 14-hour shift, and then killed Jean.

During the trial, Judge Tammy Kemp, permitted jurors that the “castle doctrine” applies to Guyger, which states that someone is permitted to use lethal force in the protection of their home or their “castle.” Guyger was not in her castle; she was in Jean’s. Kemp’s ruling resulted to a window of time when viewers were unsure if there would be a conviction, and that Guyger might abstain from the consequences for killing an unarmed man. An acquittal would then come after, and it would confirm that Jean’s life was found unimportant.

The ten-year prison sentence was not enough for many. The question of the sentence if Jean had entered a white woman’s apartment while she remained in her pajamas and ate ice cream, and continued to kill her, remains in the minds of those who thought of the sentence as “a slap in the face.” In Texas, murder is a first-degree felony that has a feasible sentence of five to 99 years in a state prison; the state had asked for a minimum sentence of 28 years in prison. Kemp ruled that the jurors could consider a "sudden passion" defense that may have reduced the sentence to two years; jurors sentenced Guyger a higher amount, but thought that the proposed 28-year – each year equating to a year of Jean’s life – sentence had been rather harsh. Since Texas law states that a convicted murderer is eligible for parole after serving half of their sentence, Guyger will be eligible for parole in five years; she is the first Dallas police officer convicted of murder since 1973.

Jean’s brother, Brandt, embraced his brother’s killer for almost a minute in the middle of the courtroom after telling her, “I forgive you.” Then came another embrace from the judge. With the trial at an end, Kemp handed the killer a Bible and embraced her while they prayed. These moments had spread throughout the nation, like the trial that led up to them had, raising inquiries about the role of race in a white police officer’s killing of an unarmed black man. These moments were familiar to those who remembered a similar situation four years ago, when family and friends of the victims of white supremacist Dylann Roof, all black parishioners at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, sent prayers and forgiveness shortly after the mass murders. 

“Black people, when they experience injustice, there’s almost an expectation that we will immediately forgive and therefore can sort of move on,” Jemar Tisby, an African American historian and writer said about the situation. “So, I think a lot of people are reacting — that we have a right to be angry, a right to grieve, and a right to want justice.”

Jean, from the island of Saint Lucia, was an inspiring and conscientious young man, a leader of his church choir who frequently came home to volunteer with at-risk youth and a local orphanage. Jean was a Harding University alumnus and an accountant for one of the most significant multinational accounting firms, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Throughout his time at Harding, he was a member of Good News Singers, a resident assistant, an intern for the Rock House campus ministry, and a leader in Sub T-16 men’s social club. He habitually led worship for chapel. Ben Crump, an attorney for the Jean family, said that Jean was a near-perfect person. 

"But it shouldn't take all of that for unarmed black and brown people in America to get justice," Crump said.

Crump says that this verdict is for all of the unarmed black and brown human beings in America. That this verdict is for Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Jemel Roberson, EJ Bradford, Stephon Clark, Pamela Turner, and all of the men and women who have suffered from injustice.

“For so many black and brown unarmed human beings all across America,” Crump continued, raising Jean’s mother’s hand in the air, "this verdict today is for them. Everybody can raise their hands — this verdict is for them. This verdict is for them.”

References:

Emily, Jennifer, et al. “Amber Guyger Convicted of Murder for Killing Botham Jean; Sentencing Phase to Continue Wednesday.” Dallas News, Dallas News, 2 Oct. 2019, https://www.dallasnews.com/news/courts/2019/10/01/jurors-begin-second-day-deliberations-amber-guygers-murder-trial/.

 

Martinez, Marina Trahan, et al. “Amber Guyger Is Sentenced to 10 Years for Murder of Botham Jean.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2 Oct. 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/02/us/amber-guyger-sentencing.html.

 

Mumford, Nana Efua. “Touching Moments in a Courtroom Can't Change the Fact That Botham Jean Didn't Deserve to Die.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 4 Oct. 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/04/conviction-botham-jeans-killer-may-be-historic-story-still-hurts/.