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October 2, 2019

Texas jury imposes 10 year prison term on Amber Guyger for murdering Botham Jean

As reported in this prior post, yesterday a Dallas County jury convicted Amber Guyger of murdering Botham Jean in his apartment last year in a high-profile case that has made headlines for many months.  Today the case made another headline when, as reported here, the jury returned its sentence: "Amber Guyger sentenced to 10 years for murdering neighbor Botham Jean."  Here are some of the jury sentencing details:

Amber Guyger, the former Dallas police officer convicted of murder for fatally shooting her unarmed neighbor in his apartment, was sentenced Wednesday to 10 years in prison. Guyger, 31, learned her fate after a sentencing hearing that included emotional testimony from the family of victim Botham Jean and revelations that she shared racist and offensive texts and social media posts.

Prosecutors had asked jurors to sentence Guyger to at least 28 years — symbolic because Jean would have turned 28 last Sunday.

Guyger did not testify during her sentencing, but has the opportunity to appeal the conviction in the unique case that has gripped the city of Dallas and shattered the idea that law-abiding citizens can be safe in their own homes.

The jury was allowed to consider whether Jean's death was the result of "sudden passion," which meant Guyger acted in the heat of the moment. It carried a lesser sentence of two to 20 years behind bars....

During the sentencing hearing Wednesday, Guyger's mother, Karen Guyger, 66, testified and said that her then-boyfriend had molested Guyger when she was 6. She said she reported it to the police and he was arrested. NBC News was unable to immediately learn the outcome of the case.

Karen Guyger added that her daughter was distraught after killing Jean. "She feels very bad about it," Karen Guyger said through tears.

Dallas County prosecutors built a case through Guyger's police disciplinary records, texts and social media posts to speak to her character and argue she is undeserving of a lenient sentence.

Jurors were shown three Pinterest posts that Guyger had saved to her account and commented on. They included the picture of a military sniper with text that read: "Stay low, go fast; kill first, die last; one shot, one kill; no luck, all skill." In another Pinterest post, Guyger commented under a picture of a Minion from the movie "Despicable Me": "People are so ungrateful. No one ever thanks me for having the patience not to kill them," the comment read.

New texts were also shown to jurors between Guyger and her married work partner, Officer Martin Rivera, with whom she had been having an affair. Prosecutors had revealed their sexually explicit texts during the trial, although the defense downplayed them, saying the two were already "ramping down" their relationship by the time the shooting occurred. Rivera texted in March 2018 to Guyger: "Damn I was at this area with 5 different black officers !!! Not racist but damn." She responded: "Not racist but just have a different way of working and it shows."

Guyger texted with another officer last year about the Martin Luther King Jr. parade in Dallas. "When does this end lol," the officer wrote to Guyger. "When MLK is dead … oh wait …," she joked.

Two days before Guyger fatally shot Jean, she texted with someone who had adopted a German Shepherd. The dog's owner wrote of the animal: "Although she may be racist." Guyger responded, "It's okay .. I'm the same," and later added: "I hate everything and everyone but y'all."

During the sentencing phase, defense attorney Toby Shook asked the jury to think about how Guyger helped others as an officer, and largely glossed over the derogatory texts that prosecutors had introduced earlier. "Through these horrible series of events, she went into his apartment by mistake," Shook said. "She pulled that trigger in an instant — an instant she will regret for the rest of her life. ... She didn't go there seeking to kill him."...

The jury, made up of mostly women and people of color, deliberated for about five hours to convict Guyger and has been sequestered during the trial, which began Sept. 23. Guyger was taken into custody at the end of the first day of the sentencing phase, which started after the verdict was read Tuesday. She was booked into the Dallas County jail.

Prior related post:

October 2, 2019 at 05:33 PM | Permalink


While I find the sentence low I think the claim that there is "no justice" here overwrought. There was justice. Whether it was enough justice is a different question. I have my doubts but I also respect the jury's wisdom.

Posted by: Daniel | Oct 2, 2019 6:02:35 PM

I'm more than fine with 10 years. That's quite a long time.

I see this as yet another instance of a far shorter sentence than average highlighting why most sentences are far too harsh.

How about the moral courage of Mr. Jean's brother, who in open court forgave her and wished nothing but the best, including no jail time at all?

Posted by: John | Oct 3, 2019 12:40:59 AM

I'm glad the jury convicted her of murder. She was lucky her particular crime did not carry the death penalty under Texas law. While I wish that the jury had recommended a more stringent sentence of, say at least 25 years, I guess I can live with this ten year sentence. At least the jury found her GUILTY of murder (what deagree?) and did not let her "walk". I am disappointed with the judge's earlier advice to the jurors allowing them to consider the Castle Stand Your Ground provision. Had the judge's advice resulted in a decision by the jury to acquit her, then I would have been among those demanding a recall of that judge. As for right now, I am now undecided on whether a recall would be justified since the jury did reach a guilty verdict. I probably would still support a recall vote, because that judge's advice COULD have otherwise resulted in the acquittal of a killer cop. She is like that judge in Stanford, CA, over three years ago who gave a very lenient sentence to a convicted rapist. He did get recalled. What do the rest of you think about recalling this Dallas judge?

Posted by: William Delzell | Oct 3, 2019 9:51:28 AM

This seems eminently sensible outcome. Why, exactly, is 10 years not an adequate sentence in this instance? Is she too dangerous to be let out after 10 years? I would argue that this type of sentence is adequate in many murder cases, so do not consider it an issue of white privilege or the like. We should encourage rationality in sentencing. I thought Mr. Jean's brother's testimony was incredible. If only more victims families acted with such class and did not simply take a vindictive approach.

Mr. Delzell's call for a recall seems really misguided. Do we really want a system in which a judge's continued service is based on making decisions that are supported by a majority vote? That seems insane.

Posted by: Mark | Oct 3, 2019 11:08:58 AM

The conviction was for first-degree murder. The jury rejected the defense's claim of "sudden passion upon adequate provocation," which would have dropped it to second-degree murder. The jury nonetheless chose a sentence that was within both the first- and second-degree range. (The first-degree range was 5 to 99; the second-degree range was 2 to 20.)

Posted by: Def. Atty. | Oct 3, 2019 12:19:26 PM

I have not heard enough of the evidence or followed Texas law closely enough to know if it was appropriate to include Castle Doctrine/Stand Your Ground language in the instruction. In my state, I know that it is very easy to get reversed for not including language if it is supported by the evidence. It should not be surprising that, in a close call, judges err on the side of giving the instruction, hoping that the jury does their job right and apply the facts (as shown by the evidence) to the instruction rejecting a self-defense claim that has no evidentiary support.

Posted by: tmm | Oct 3, 2019 12:23:13 PM

Just a layman here. I visit this blog frequently to read the many thoughtful post and comments here. Of particular interest in this case is the overwhelming Twitter response from people of color about the disparity in sentencing based on race. Numerous anecdotal data posted (no way to verify them) - but POC getting the book thrown at them by the system for committing lesser crimes.

So, the sentence has to be viewed in that context. Flip side of the above could be the argument that the defendant got a stiffer sentence (or convicted of murder than manslaughter) because of the prevalent atmosphere around race related political movement (black lives matter, etc.).

I would like to hear some thoughts around that from the posters here, more familiar with the legal system. Does this sentence highlight inherent biases in the system?

Posted by: Anon.E. Mouse | Oct 3, 2019 3:12:47 PM

A few observations:

1. While she is guilty of first-degree murder, the fact that the murder was the result of a mistake makes her less culpable than the typical first-degree murder convict. The jury probably gave her a break for this reason.

2. The fact that she didn't try to save him after shooting him, especially after realizing her mistake, ought to make it worse for her.

3. She may have received a break because she is female.

4. She appears to be at low risk to recidivate. No one is going to hire her as a cop after she gets out.

Posted by: William C Jockusch | Oct 3, 2019 7:16:26 PM

I will retract one thing from my previous message, though, for Mark. Later on, I heard that the judge's real reason for allowing the jury to consider the Castle Doctrine was NOT to let the defendant to get away scott free, but to prevent her appeal from being able to use the Castle Doctrine. Thus, the judge's decision actually helped the prosecution. The reason why I had erroneously misunderstood the judge's motives was due to what happened three years ago when a judge imposed an unusually lenient sentence on a convicted rapist at Stanford University. Apparently, this judge had different and more justified reasons in her decision to instruct the jury to consider the "Stand Your Ground" provision in the law.

As for the murder victim's brother asking for forgiveness towards the defendant, that is okay, but forgiveness should not mean getting a "get out of jail free" card. She should do SOME time and pay restitution to her victims. If it were my brother or sister she killed, I would TRY to forgive her and would certainly not advocate lynch mob "justice" against her, but she would have to EARN forgiveness. NEVER confuse forgiveness with allowing a violent perpetrator to get away with committing a heinous crime, which the defendant here committed! That means having to suffer legal consequences and accept accountability for one's action. I am surprised that a so-called "victims' rights" advocate like Mark would suddenly be so lenient with her when he usually accuses our courts of coddling criminals. I hope that her gender and race didn't get her off easily. Her tweets to her boyfriend indicated that she had NO remorse for what she did. She also made racist statements that she had the same racial hatreds as Dylan Roof who shot up a black church in South Carolina or Timothy MacVeigh who referred to Jews and blacks as the "mud" people when he blew up a day care center at the Federal Building in Oklahoma City almost 25 years ago.

Mark, if I had killed one of your loved ones while intoxicated and showed wanton neglect as she did, let along bragged about it on Twitter to a friend or loved-one, you would have every right to demand that I pay the consequences for my actions. Frankly, while I respect the victim's brother in this case to recommend mercy, I feel he is overly lenient with her. You "victims' rights" advocates used to denounce coddling of criminals, but apparently not in this case were the perpetrator is white and female.

Mark, let's don't have a double standard that favors one by either gender or race. Equal protection under the law should mean exactly that.

Posted by: William Delzell | Oct 4, 2019 9:34:01 AM

Was the murder of Joshua Brown, the chief witness for the prosecution, in retaliation for his testimony that sealed the conviction of the white policewoman who murdered a black man in his apartment? Could the murderer (S) have been other police officers or right-wing vigilantes in cahoots with the killer-cop who murdered Jean?

Posted by: William Delzell | Oct 8, 2019 10:17:24 AM

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