When I was last on the air this past Tuesday, I had serious doubts as to whether or not Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger would even been convicted of a crime after the instructions the judge gave the jury about the stand your ground laws in Texas, but later that day, to our surprise, the jury indeed convicted her of murder.
But so much of what happened yesterday in her sentencing hearing was surprising, disgusting, perplexing, and problematic. For our listeners who aren’t from Texas, in Texas, the jury decides on sentencing, and convenes immediately after the conviction.
The prosecution and defense are allowed to present their cases without most of the same rules that are present in the trial, and again, the prosecution was amazing, not only bringing people from every facet of Botham Jean’s life, but also showing Amber Guyger’s horrible record as a police officer and a litany of racist and problematic text messages and memes she had sent and received from throughout her career.
The jury was instructed that they could give Amber Guyger anywhere from 5 years to 99 years in prison. Ultimately, the family asked for her to receive a year for every year that Botham was alive, which was 26 years. After a few hours of deliberation, the jury came back, with a sentence that almost as short as it could get. They gave her 10 years, but she’ll have the possibility of parole in 5.
Now listen, all time in prison is hard time. A year is hard. And as a justice reform advocate, I am rarely one to fight for longer and harsher sentences for anyone, but it’s painful to see someone get 10 years with the possibility of parole in 5, after they were convicted of murder, not manslaughter, not reckless homicide, but murder – when nearly every listener to this show knows somebody who did longer than that for drugs.
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick received 28 years in federal prison for financial crimes and is expected to have to serve all or nearly all of his sentence. In 2016, a man who shot and killed a police dog received 45 years in prison. It’s just painful to consistently see the book get thrown at millions of people then to see Amber Guyger given so many breaks.
Now several disturbing things happened in court yesterday that I do want to address.
First, I want to address the fact that Botham’s little brother, Brandt, said he forgave Amber Guyer, and asked the judge if he could give her a hug. I saw a lot of people online saying they were bothered by this and that they wouldn’t have done it. First, let me say that Brandt is a teenage boy. And Botham was his big brother. If this is what he felt he wanted or needed to do, that’s his business. He did that completely on his own. You have to understand that while you might have been into this trial, or this case for the past few days, this family has had to sit with it every day for 13 straight months.
Also, some people were saying that Brandt saying and doing this influenced the decision of the jury to give a light sentence. That’s not true. Brandt did this after the jury had already made their decision.
But I do have to address the actions of two other people in the courtroom that were equally disturbing. You may have seen a video of a Black woman who is bailiff in the courtroom petting Amber Guyger’s hair. I’ve never seen such a thing before. A few other police officers confirmed for me privately that she was not checking Amber Guyger’s hair for contraband, as some had suggested, she was simply petting her to comfort her. It violates the rules of the court.
But after the sentencing yesterday, Judge Kemp, who we have since learned was endorsed and supported financially by the Dallas Police, came down and hugged Amber Guyger, and then gave her her personal Bible, and told her scriptures to read.
Again, it’s the place of a victim to offer forgiveness, but to see the judge do what she did, is unheard of. It’s deeply problematic – and again, it’d be different if this is how she was with everybody, but I doubt it.
It’s not that I have a problem with a judge or a bailiff being compassionate, but what we saw yesterday is just further proof that the system does not value all lives equally. It doesn’t.
With that said, and I’ll close with this thought – an enormous team of people worked hard to secure this conviction and to get even this sentence, and I commend them. And I commend Botham’s mother, Allison, in her remarks to the media, for making it clear that Dallas has a lot more work to do to confront corruption and bigotry in its department.