The same jury that convicted a white Dallas police officer in the fatal shooting of her black neighbor returns to court Wednesday to consider her sentence. Guyger faces a sentencing of five years to life in prison.
Amber Guyger, who said she mistook the man’s apartment for her own, which was directly below, was convicted of murder in a verdict that drew tears of relief from his family and chants of “black lives matter” from a crowd outside the courtroom.
Guyger sat alone, weeping, at the defense table.
Her defense 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.
It was unclear how long the punishment phase of the trial would last. Testimony began Tuesday after the verdict, starting with Botham Jean’s friends and family, who explained how his death affected them.
First on the stand was Allison Jean, who said her son was killed just before he was 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 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.
Prosecutors submitted text messages that indicated Guyger lacks sensitivity toward black people. In one, she suggests participants at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Dallas could be persuaded to go home with the use of physical violence and pepper spray.
In a message sent to Guyger’s phone, the messenger suggests she would like a German shepherd because the dog is racist. Guyger declares that she hates “everything and everyone but y’all.”
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 she thought the apartment was her own when 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 fired.
The verdict was “a victory for black people in America,” said Lee Merritt, one of the lawyers for Jean’s family. “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.”