Allison Jean raised her arms to the heavens in exultation Tuesday, moments after fired officer Amber Guyger was convicted of murder for killing Jean’s son Botham.
“God is good. Trust him,” Jean said as she walked out of the court and into the jubilant crowd of supporters cheering outside.
After hearing the verdict, Guyger stood until the jury left. Then, she sank into her chair and sat alone for 15 minutes, a bailiff standing guard nearby.
Guyger was booked into the Dallas County jail for the night about 4:45 p.m. on a charge of murder.
Testimony in the punishment phase of Guyger’s trial began after lunch and lasted all afternoon, before court recessed for the day.
Guyger and the jury will return Wednesday morning to continue the punishment phase of her trial. In Texas, murder carries a sentence of five to 99 years or life in prison. She is not eligible for probation.
Guyger, 31, fatally shot 26-year-old Jean in his apartment last year. 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.
As state District Judge Tammy Kemp read the verdict and quickly called a recess, Allison Jean leaned her head back and then stood up and raised her arms, the emotion evident on her face.
Her daughter, Allisa Findley, slumped in her seat, put her face in her hands and wept. Jean’s grandmother raised her right fist in the air as she left the courtroom.
More than two dozen bailiffs lined the courtroom and the hallway outside. Patches on some of their uniforms indicated they were with the tactical unit, though they had no extra gear.
At one point, one bailiff asked another whether they had enough people to handle the crowd. “No,” another responded.
The crowd in the hallway after the verdict was boisterous but not unruly. When prosecutors walked out, people gave them a round of raucous applause and cheers.
In the hallway, Guyger’s mother was shaking.
After the verdict, Ben Crump, an attorney for the Jean family, said 26-year-old Jean was a “near perfect” person.
“This jury had to make history in America today, because Botham was the best that we had to offer,” Crump said. “Twenty-six year old, college-educated black man, certified public accountant, working for one of the big three accounting firms in the world, PricewaterhouseCoopers.”
“But it shouldn’t take all of that for unarmed black and brown people in America to get justice,” Crump said.
Crump said the verdict wasn’t just for Jean and his family.
“This verdict is for Trayvon Martin,” he said, “it’s for Michael Brown, it’s for Sandra Bland, it’s for Tamir Rice, it’s for Eric Garner, it’s for Antwon Rose, it’s for Jemel Roberson, for EJ Bradford, for Stephon Clark, for Jeffrey Dennis, Genevieve Dawes, for Pamela Turner.”
“O’Shae Terry,” interjected Merritt, who also represents the Jeans.
“For so many black and brown unarmed human beings all across America,” Crump continued, holding Allison Jean’s hand in the air, “this verdict today is for them. Everybody can raise their hands — this verdict is for them. This verdict is for them.”
About 2:30 p.m., Allison Jean took the stand, 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.
Allison Jean told the jury how one time her son flew from Arkansas to St. Lucia to surprise her for Mother’s Day. She thought she must have been dreaming when she heard him call her “GG,” his nickname for her, short for governor general.
Then her testimony turned to the day last September when she heard her son had been killed at his home in Dallas.
“My life has not been the same,” she said. “It’s just been like a roller coaster. I cannot sleep. I cannot eat. It’s just been the most terrible time for me.”
It’s been a test for the entire Jean family, she said, but perhaps most difficult for Botham Jean’s teenage brother, Brandt.
“I’m very concerned about him because he’s just been very, very quiet,” she said. “He doesn’t speak much. So I’m not sure what’s going through his mind.”
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.
“Are those hard to watch?” Long, the prosecutor, asked.
“His voice,” Findley replied.
“When you hear his voice, what do you think?” Long asked.
Findley shook her head, pursed her lips, and took a deep breath.
“That I want my brother back,” she said.
Before the jury returned to the courtroom, the judge overruled the defense’s objections to the jury hearing evidence from Guyger’s personnel file and social media records.
Once again, Guyger’s text messages became a focus of testimony, after explicit messages she shared with her married partner, Martin Rivera, were presented on the first day of the trial.
Prosecutors presented evidence aimed at maligning Guyger’s character, including offensive social media posts and racist texts.
In one text message exchange that took place while Guyger was working the 2018 Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade, someone asked the now-convicted cop when the event would end.
“When MLK is dead…oh wait…” she replied.
In another exchange from later that year, Guyger and Rivera messaged each other about their black co-workers.
“Damn I was at this area with 5 different black officers!!! Not racist but damn,” Rivera said.
“Not racist but just have a different way of working and it shows,” Guyger replied.
The jury also saw posts Guyger had on a Pinterest account, including one that read “I wear all black to remind you not to mess with me, because I’m already dressed for your funeral.”
Merritt and Washington said the messages showed Guyger’s true character and they wished they had been shown during the guilt/innocence phase of the trial.
Sgt. Robert Watson, who supervised Guyger when she was on the Dallas Police Department’s Crime Response Team, testified about a time in August 2018 when a handcuffed suspect got away from Guyger.
She didn’t immediately notify her supervisor, Watson testified.
On cross-examination, Guyger’s attorney Robert Rogers asked whether Guyger was dependable and hardworking. The sergeant agreed that she was.
Outside, on the steps of the courthouse, activists from Jean’s native St. Lucia and elsewhere began celebrating shortly after the verdict was read.
Safiya Paul, a St. Lucian immigrant, was wrapped in the blue, yellow and black flag of the Caribbean nation.
Paul and another activist, Tamara Neil, were in the courtroom when the verdict was read. Neil said the hallway after was “full of joyous energy.”
“This is how you celebrate a black life,” Neil said. “Can you imagine how big Botham is smiling right now? Like, his life really mattered. … At last we can stand in the same room as justice.”
“Yes!” Paul shouted.
“God, it feels good,” Neil said. “If he was here, what do you think Botham would be saying right now?”
“He would be singing,” Paul said.
Before the verdict, as their deliberations entered a second day, jurors were given the option to consider the “castle doctrine,” known as Texas’ “Stand Your Ground” law. The law was clearly on their minds first thing Tuesday morning.
An attorney for the Jean family, Daryl K. Washington, told reporters that the jury sent two notes to state District Judge Tammy Kemp, asking for clarification on the charge of manslaughter — they had a choice of murder, manslaughter or outright acquittal — and for more information about the castle doctrine.
“If Amber Guyger is allowed to use that defense … what would’ve happened if Botham would’ve shot her for coming into his home?” Washington said, citing the jury’s question. “Would he have been able to use the castle doctrine?”
Testimony in the first phase of the trial stretched across six days after the trial began Sept. 23. Jurors had heard from officers who responded first to the scene the night of the shooting and watched how they frantically tried to save Jean’s life.
They also heard from people who lived at the apartment complex where Guyger and Jean lived, as well as testimony from a medical examiner, a crime scene analyst and the Texas Rangers’ lead investigator for the shooting.
Guyger’s defense team had urged the jury to think “coolly and calmly” about the case, which they cast as a tragic mistake. They have said Guyger made a “series of horrible mistakes” that led to her shooting Jean out of fear for her life.
But the prosecution said arguments of self-defense don’t apply to Guyger because Jean was not a threat. They said Guyger had other options besides killing Jean and that she acted unreasonably by failing to notice she wasn’t at her apartment.
Here’s a look back at a few key moments during the trial:
Read more about Botham Jean and Amber Guyger.
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