“I love you as a person. I don’t wish anything bad on you,” said Brandt Jean, the younger brother of Botham Jean who was killed by an off-duty Dallas police officer in September 2018. “I don’t know if this [is] possible, but can I give her a hug?” he asked the judge.
The unusual events capped a six-day murder trial that resulted in 31-year-old Amber Guyger, a former Dallas police officer, being convicted of murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Guyger was seen weeping at the defense table, seated with her lawyers, while cheers erupted outside the courtroom from Jean’s family and friends after the verdict was delivered Oct. 1.
The Jean family’s attorneys, Ben Crump and Lee Merritt, stood outside the courtroom and delivered the post-verdict message to the media.
“This is a huge victory, not only for the family of Botham Jean, but this a victory for black people in America,” said Merritt. Crump also represented the family of 17-year old Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black male in Sanford, Florida, who was killed by a Hispanic neighborhood watch member.
“I look at this jury. And I look at the diversity of this jury,” Merritt said. “They will see all past the technical, intellectual justifications for an unjustifiable killing. And I believe they will do the right thing.”
Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall held a press conference after the jury sentenced Guyger and said that Dallas Police Association President Michael Mata and Dallas police officer Martin Rivera will undergo investigation by the Internal Affairs Unit for their handling of the case.
Tensions were still high after the sentencing. Guyger faced a possible sentence of 5 to 99 years in prison. Prosecutors appealed to the jurors for a minimum of 28 years in prison, which was how old Botham Jean would have been Oct. 2 when the sentence was handed down.
The shooting in September 2018 drew national attention due to the bizarre nature of the incident. Guyger, a white police officer, killed Jean, a black man, who was eating ice cream in his own apartment. Guyger, who lived in the same apartment building, was coming home from working a long shift and went to the wrong apartment. She said she thought Jean was an intruder in her apartment and fatally shot him.
During the sentencing phase, Guyger’s attorneys asked jurors to show mercy, pointing to the good she did for the people, including some who spoke at the sentencing phase of the trial. After the sentencing, people outside the courtroom, including Jean’s family and supporters, became irate about the 10-year sentence.
It was the 18-year-old Jean though, Botham’s younger brother, who took center stage by asking Judge Tammy Kemp for permission to give Guyger a hug. The situation caught many off guard.
Kemp was seen wiping tears away. She hugged the Jean family in the courtroom and Guyger too, who was by then a convicted murderer. Kemp handed Guyger a Bible before she was taken to jail and told her “This is your job for the next month. Right here, John 3:16.”
It was a move some found controversial. The Freedom from Religion Foundation, a secular group from Wisconsin, accused Kemp of proselytizing from the bench and filed a complaint with the Texas agency that investigates allegations of judicial misconduct. Chad Prda, a Dallas County sheriff candidate says that the Guyger case was “an emotional case not only for those involved but for those who watched it unfold.”
“Brandt Jean showed the world how to forgive. We should all strive to follow in his footsteps. Anger will fix nothing. Forgiveness will allow us to see and address the true issues in Dallas,” Prda said. Amber Guyger will be eligible for parole in five years, after serving half her sentence. The jury was composed mostly of women of color.