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October 2, 2019

After murder conviction, Texas jury on to sentencing phase in trial of Amber Guyger for killing Botham Jean

As reported in this Dallas Morning News piece, headlined "Amber Guyger convicted of murder for killing Botham Jean; sentencing phase to continue Wednesday," a high-profile trial resulted in the murder verdict and then immediately shifted into a jury sentencing phase. Here are the basics:

A Dallas County jury on Tuesday convicted Amber Guyger of murdering Botham Jean in his apartment last year, in a trial that renewed international outrage over white police officers killing unarmed black men.

Jean's mother raised her arms in exultation as cheers broke out in the hallway outside the courtroom when the verdict was announced shortly after 10:30 a.m., following five hours of deliberation by the jury....

Guyger was booked into the Dallas County jail for the night about 4:45 p.m., not long after court recessed for the day. Testimony in the punishment phase of Guyger's trial will continue at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. In Texas, murder carries a sentence of five to 99 years or life in prison. She isn't eligible for probation.

Guyger, 31, fatally shot 26-year-old Jean in his apartment last year. She was off-duty but still in uniform when she shot Jean with her service weapon. She had said she mistook his apartment for her own and thought Jean was a burglar. She is the first Dallas officer convicted of murder since the 1970s.

Jurors deliberated for three hours Monday after the prosecution and Guyger's defense presented closing arguments. They quickly delivered a verdict after two more hours Tuesday morning....

About 2:30 p.m., Allison Jean took the stand [at the start of the penalty phase], telling the jury how her middle child, Botham, was the "glue" between his older sister, Allisa, and younger brother, Brandt, who are separated by a 20-year age difference. "Botham was also this take charge type of person, so he was always giving advice both to Allisa and to Brandt," she said.

Sobbing at times, the proud mother talked about Botham Jean's many interests, from rugby to a lifelong love for singing. Several jurors turned their chairs toward Allison Jean as she testified. When she grew emotional, one juror turned his head away and stared at the wall for a few minutes. Then, he looked back at Jean.

Guyger stared straight ahead throughout the testimony Tuesday afternoon. She didn't appear to look at the witness stand or at pictures displayed on three large screens in the courtroom of Jean smiling with family members and friends.

Prosecutor LaQuita Long showed the jury photos of Botham Jean growing up, including a photo with him and his grandmother at his high school graduation. In the photo, he's beaming, holding a trophy that his mother said was given to the top student for discipline and academic excellence....

[Allisa] Findley, Botham Jean's older sister, also testified, telling jurors how her family has been changed forever since her brother died. She bowed her head as videos of her brother singing at a worship service played on the screen overhead.

Because I have not been able to follow the trial closely, I am hesitant to even guess what kind of sentence the jury will now bring back in this case. I am tempted to predict it will be a sentence somewhat closer to the statutory minimum of 5 years than to the statutory maximum of 99 years, but one never quite knows with juries.

October 2, 2019 at 12:50 AM | Permalink

Comments

I am glad that the jury disregarded the judge's advice to consider the Castle Law in their deliberations and to convict her of the murder charge. I wonder if the judge will face a recall fight by outraged loved ones of the black male murder victim. I hope the jury will decide to throw the book at this killer-cop to send a message that wanton murder by intoxicated police officers will not be tolerated. What was a police officer doing drunk while firing her weapon? That violates police professionalism.

Posted by: William Delzell | Oct 2, 2019 9:33:30 AM

In Texas, the jury's guilty verdict is only for "murder," without specifying the degree. The degree of murder is determined in the punishment phase: the burden is on the defendant to persuade the jury by a preponderance of the evidence that the killing was made in a sudden passion upon adequate provocation. If the defendant makes that proof by a preponderance, the murder is second degree, with a penalty range of 2 to 20 years. If not, then the murder is first degree, with a penalty range of 5 to 99 years.

The defendant has the opportunity before trial to select whether the jury determines sentence, or the judge. Almost all defendants choose the jury (because Texas judges are elected, generally on tough-on-crime promises). So the jury will decide whether the murder is first degree or second, and then select the punishment within the corresponding statutory range.

(The Texas definition of second-degree murder -- an intentional killing committed in sudden passion upon adequate provocation -- is what the federal system and many other states call voluntary manslaughter. In Texas, manslaughter is defined as reckless (rather than intentional) killing -- what the federal system and many other states call involuntary manslaughter.)

Posted by: Def. Atty. | Oct 2, 2019 10:37:49 AM

I believe she should get the stiffest sentence possible for murdering this lovely young man who had so much to look forward to in his life. The woman is obviously racist as the texts and comments she has made previously show. I pray for the friends and family of this innocent young man.

Posted by: Janet Tate | Oct 2, 2019 4:06:49 PM

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