A jury has sentenced Amber Guyger to 10 years in prison for the murder of Botham Jean after viewing racist text messages sent by the former Dallas police officer.
Prosecutors had symbolically asked for a minimum sentence of 28 years. Jean, who was 26 when he died, would have turned 28 last Sunday.
Guyger was convicted on Tuesday of murdering the accountant, who was watching television on his couch and eating vanilla ice cream when she shot him in his living room on the night of 6 September 2018. Lawyers for Jean’s family described the unanimous verdict as a landmark in the national fight to hold police accountable for the killings of unarmed black people.
The trial then moved to the sentencing phase and prosecutors showed the jury derisive text messages Guyger sent about working a Martin Luther King Day parade in 2018. Responding to a message that asked “When does this end lol,” she wrote: “When MLK is dead… oh wait…”
She also suggested that the crowd could be pushed or pepper-sprayed because she felt the parade was lengthy.
Martin Rivera, her former partner on the force and former lover, texted her in March, 2018, writing: “Damn I was at this area with 5 different black officers !!! Not racist but damn.” Guyger responded: “Not racist but just have a different way of working and it shows.” In another conversation two days before the shooting, a friend discusses a dog that “may be racist”. Guyger replies: “It’s okay… I’m the same… I hate everything and everyone but y’all.”
The 12-person jury was shown memes and quotations she saved on a social media account, such as “I wear all black to remind you not to mess with me, because I’m already dressed for your funeral”, and an image of a Minion character from the Despicable Me films with the text: “People are so ungrateful. No one ever thanks me for having the patience not to kill them.”
The 31-year-old, who is white, faced up to 99 years in prison. She claimed that she was tired after a long work day and mistakenly went to the apartment directly above her own at the complex in central Dallas, then killed Jean, who was black, because she thought he was a dangerous intruder.
Guyger denied she is racist. When she fired two shots from her service weapon while off-duty but in uniform, hitting Jean once in the chest, she said she was acting in self-defence because she thought her life was under immediate threat from a burglar.
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“I never wanted to take an innocent person’s life. And I’m so sorry. This is not about hate. It’s about being scared that night,” she testified last week.
She was fired from the Dallas police department after being arrested following the shooting. Friends and members of Guyger’s family testified on Wednesday that she is a kind person who feels profoundly guilty and remorseful. Her defence team argued that the text messages and posts did not reflect her true character.
Delivering a victim impact statement, Jean’s mother testified that she has endured “the most terrible time” since his death. “I cannot sleep. I cannot eat,” Allison Jean said. She was dressed in red, her son’s favourite colour.
A close friend, Alexis Stossel, told the court on Wednesday that Jean would text her basketball news and that he was a “natural leader” who led worship as a student at Harding University, a Christian institution in Arkansas. He later landed an accountancy job with PwC in Dallas.
“People gravitated towards him. You just felt welcomed by his presence,” Stossel said. She wept as she recalled receiving a phone call on the morning after his death and slumping to the floor screaming “wait, wait, wait” at the news that he had been fatally shot.
“I had never lost someone this close in my life and the feeling is just unexplainable,” she said. In disbelief, she “called him seven times and there was no answer”.
Bertrum Jean described a deep father-son bond and how they communicated via WhatsApp once Botham moved to the US from his native St Lucia to study at Harding University. They talked every Sunday after Botham had attended church. Now, his father said, “Sundays are not a good day for me, because I’m not hearing his voice.”
Wiping away tears, he added: “I’ll never see him again and I still want to see him.” He said his son was “Such a sweet boy. He tried his best to live a good honest life. He loved God, he loved everyone. How could this happen to him?”
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