Update: Amber Guyger sentencing proceedings Day 2

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Fired Dallas police officer Amber Guyger leaves the courtroom after a jury found her guilty of murder Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019, in Dallas. Guyger shot and killed Botham Jean, an unarmed 26-year-old neighbor in his own apartment last year. She told police she thought his apartment was her own and that he was an intruder. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool)

Wednesday:
DALLAS (AP) — The father of a man who was killed last year by a Dallas police officer who says she mistook his apartment for her own told jurors Wednesday that his son’s death has upended his life back in St. Lucia.

Bertrum Jean said that after his son, Botham, left their Caribbean island home for college in Arkansas, he would call home every Sunday after church to catch up with the tightly-knit family.

Now, he said, “My Sundays have been destroyed.”

“How could we have lost Botham? 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?” said Bertrum Jean, who broke into tears as he spoke about his son, who was killed just shy of his 27th birthday.

Bertrum Jean, father of Botham Jean, breaks down on the witness stand talking about his son during the punishment phase of the trial of former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019 at the Frank Crowley Courts Building in Dallas. Guyger was convicted of murder Tuesday in the killing of Botham Jean and faces a sentence that could range from five years to life in prison or be lowered to as little as two years if the jury decides the shooting was a crime of sudden passion. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool)

The testimony came during the first full day of the punishment phase of the trial of Amber Guyger, the 31-year-old white police officer who was convicted of murder Tuesday in the killing of Botham Jean.

After friends and family of Jean addressed the court, Guyger’s attorneys began calling witnesses to speak on behalf of the former officer. First up was Guyger’s mother, who said her daughter Amber was the youngest of three children and was sexually assaulted by a man when she was a young child. As she spoke, defense attorneys showed photos of Guyger’s family.

Former police colleagues also spoke in support of Guyger.

Officer Cathy Odhiambo, who is black, described Guyger as a longtime friend, saying they met when they were servers at a TGI Fridays restaurant, and that they both eventually attended the police academy and became Dallas police officers.

“Everybody that knows her knows that Amber is the sweetest person,” said Odhiambo, who added that Guyger had wanted to be a police officer for as long as she’d known her.

Odhiambo wasn’t asked about text messages introduced as evidence during the trial that indicated a lack of sensitivity by Guyger toward black people. However, another fellow officer, Thomas MacPherson, said that some of those texts sounded “out of character” for Guyger.

Guyger, who was fired after the shooting, faces a sentence that could range from five years to life in prison or be lowered to as little as two years if the jury decides the shooting was a crime of sudden passion.

Her attorneys can argue that she deserves a light sentence because she acted out of confusion and fear that she had found an intruder in her home. Prosecutors have given no indication in court of the sentence they will seek. Attorneys are under a gag order.

The basic facts of the unusual shooting were not in dispute throughout the trial. Guyger said that after a long shift at work and still in uniform, she walked up to Jean’s apartment — which was on the fourth floor, directly above hers on the third — and found the door unlocked. She said thinking the apartment was her own, she drew her service weapon and entered. Jean had been eating a bowl of ice cream when Guyger fired.

The shooting drew widespread attention because of the strange circumstances and because it was one in a string of shootings of unarmed black men by white police officers.

The verdict was “a victory for black people in America,” Lee Merritt, one of the lawyers for Jean’s family, said Tuesday. “It’s a signal that the tide is going to change here. Police officers are going to be held accountable for their actions, and we believe that will begin to change policing culture around the world.”

The jury was largely made up of women and people of color.

Attorney Ben Crump, also representing the family, credited the makeup of the jury with Tuesday’s conviction, and said he expects them to deliver a weighty sentence.

“I look at this jury. And I look at the diversity of this jury,” he said. “They will see past all the technical, intellectual justifications for an unjustifiable killing. And I believe they will do the right thing.”

Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata declined to comment Tuesday, saying Guyger’s lawyers asked him to wait until after sentencing. The group, which represents city police officers, has paid for Guyger’s legal defense and security.

The verdict may have defused tensions that began simmering Monday when jurors were told they could consider whether Guyger had a right to use deadly force under a Texas law known as the castle doctrine — even though she was not in her own home. The law is similar to “stand your ground” measures across the U.S. that declare a person has no duty to retreat from an intruder.

In a frantic 911 call played repeatedly during the trial, Guyger said “I thought it was my apartment” nearly 20 times. Her lawyers argued that the identical physical appearance of the apartment complex from floor to floor frequently led to tenants going to the wrong apartments.

But prosecutors questioned how Guyger could have missed numerous signs that she was in the wrong place. They also asked why she did not call for backup and suggested she was distracted by sexually explicit phone messages with her police partner.

Guyger was arrested three days after the killing. She was later fired and charged with murder. Tension has been high during the trial in Dallas, where five police officers were killed in an attack three years ago.


Associated Press writer Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas, contributed to this report.


Update:

DALLAS – Sentencing proceedings for former police officer Amber Guyger after her murder conviction in the 2018 killing of Botham Jean* will continue Wednesday morning.

The jury’s verdict was announced late Tuesday morning and the sentencing phase began around 1 p.m. before wrapping up for the day around 4:30.

Court is scheduled to resume at 9:30 Wednesday morning.

Guyger could be sentenced to from five to 99 years in prison under Texas law.

The jury took a matter of hours to convict Guyger, 31, after six days of testimony.

Cheers erupted in the courthouse as the verdict was announced, and someone yelled “Thank you, Jesus!” In the hallway outside the courtroom, a crowd celebrated and chanted “black lives matter.” When the prosecutors walked into the hall, they broke into cheers.

After the verdict was read, Guyger sat alone, weeping, at the defense table.

Jean’s friends and family testified later Tuesday at the punishment phase of the trial, to explain how his death has affected them. First on the stand was Allison Jean, who said her son was killed just before he was due to turn 27.

“My life has not been the same. It’s just been like a roller coaster. I can’t sleep, I cannot eat. It’s just been the most terrible time for me,” she said.

Botham Jean’s sister, Allisa Findley, told the jury that she and her mother cry a lot, her formerly “bubbly” younger brother has retreated as if into a shell, and that her father is “not the same.”

“It’s like the light behind his eyes is off,” Findley said.

She said her children are now afraid of police.

Guyger’s defense attorneys can argue that she deserves a light sentence because she acted out of sudden fear and confusion. The judge is expected to provide guidance on sentencing law.

It is unclear how long the punishment phase of the trial will last.

The basic facts of the unusual shooting were not in dispute throughout the trial. After a long shift at work and still in uniform, Guyger walked up to Jean’s apartment — which was on the fourth floor, directly above hers on the third — and found the door unlocked. Thinking the apartment was her own, she drew her service weapon and entered.

Jean, an accountant from the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia, had been eating a bowl of ice cream when Guyger entered his home and shot him.

The shooting drew widespread attention because of the strange circumstances and because it was one in a string of shootings of unarmed black men by white police officers.

“A 26-year-old college-educated black man, certified public accountant, working for one of the big three accounting firms in the world … it shouldn’t take all of that for unarmed black and brown people in America to get justice,” Benjamin Crump, one of the lawyers for Jean’s family, said at a news conference Tuesday.

Crump said the verdict honors other people of color who were killed by police officers who were not convicted of a crime.

Attorney Lee Merritt, who also represents the family, underlined Crump’s words.

“This is a huge victory, not only for the family of Botham Jean, but this is a victory for black people in America. It’s a signal that the tide is going to change here. Police officers are going to be held accountable for their actions, and we believe that will begin to change policing culture around the world,” Merritt said.

The jury that convicted Guyger was largely made up of women and people of color.

Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata declined to comment Tuesday afternoon, saying Guyger’s lawyers asked him to wait until after sentencing. The group, which represents city police officers, has paid for Guyger’s legal defense and security.

The verdict may have defused tensions that began simmering Monday when jurors were told they could consider whether Guyger had a right to use deadly force under a Texas law known as the castle doctrine — even though she wasn’t in her own home.

The law is similar to “stand your ground” measures across the U.S. that state a person has no duty to retreat from an intruder. Prosecutor Jason Fine told jurors that while the law would have empowered Jean to shoot someone barging into his apartment, it doesn’t apply “the other way around.”

Guyger was arrested three days after the killing. She was later fired and charged with murder . Tension has been high during the trial in Dallas, where five police officers were killed in an attack three years ago.

Guyger tearfully apologized for killing Jean and told the jurors she feared for her life upon finding the door to what she thought was her apartment unlocked. Guyger said Jean approached her when she entered the unit with her gun out. Prosecutors suggested he was just rising from a couch toward the back of the room when the officer shot him.

In a frantic 911 call played repeatedly during the trial, Guyger said “I thought it was my apartment” nearly 20 times. Her lawyers argued that the identical physical appearance of the apartment complex from floor to floor frequently led to tenants going to the wrong apartments.

But prosecutors questioned how Guyger could have missed numerous signs that she was in the wrong place, asked why she didn’t call for backup and suggested she was distracted by sexually explicit phone messages with her police partner.

*Jean was a native of St. Lucia and a graduate of Harding University in Searcy.

Associated Press writer Jill Bleed in Little Rock, contributed to this report.

Original story:

DALLAS — Former police officer Amber Guyger has been found guilty in the September 2018 shooting death of a man with ties to Arkansas.

A jury on Tuesday morning convicted her of murder in the killing of Botham Jean, a native of St. Lucia who graduated from Harding University in Searcy. Click here to watch the reading of the verdict.

The jury is expected to return Tuesday afternoon for the punishment phase of the trial. Guyger faces five to 99 years in prison.

Guyger had testified that she mistook Jean’s apartment for her own after a long shift and that she believed he was an intruder. The 31-year-old Guyger said she had feared for her life.

Prosecutors said it’s absurd to suggest Guyger didn’t know she was in the wrong apartment.

Guyger was charged with murder then fired from the force.

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