Former Dallas policewoman Amber Guyger may be facing a lighter sentence after prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed to let the jury consider whether she killed Botham Jean under the influence of “sudden passion,” a judge said Wednesday.
Jurors found Guyger, 31, guilty of murder in Jean’s 2018 killing Tuesday. Witnesses, including Jean’s and Guyger’s family members, have been taking the stand in her sentencing hearing. While it was initially expected Guyger could face a maximum penalty of life in prison, she could now face up to 20 years in prison.
District Judge Tammy Kemp said she at first didn’t understand how sudden passion applied to the case, but she “was informed yesterday afternoon that the state agreed to include sudden passion as part of the charge,” she said, with prosecutors confirming.
According to Texas law, a victim must provoke sudden passion at the time of the offense, not beforehand. Guyger has said she walked into the wrong apartment and opened fire after she mistook Jean for a burglar. Jean lived on the floor directly above Guyger.
If the jury agrees sudden passion was a factor, it reduces Guyger’s crime to a second-degree felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
‘Botham was my absolute person’
Wednesday’s testimony kicked with Jean’s close friend sharing stories of his love for sports and God and wept over a text message she never sent to him.
Alexis Stossel met Jean her junior year at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. They became best friends after they were appointed to sit on a business school advisory board, she testified.
The hearing began shortly after Tuesday’s verdict, in which jurors found Guyger, 31, guilty — despite the ex-officer’s defense that she mistakenly walked into the wrong apartment and opened fire because she thought Jean was an intruder.
“Next to my husband, Botham was my absolute person,” Stossel said, explaining that before she got married, she told her would-be spouse, “I love you, but this man is going to be in my life forever, and he’s going to be a part of us forever.”
Her husband, Jacob, and Jean shared an interest in the NBA and became friends themselves after Stossel and Jean moved to Texas following graduation. She would joke that she was their third wheel, she testified.
Jean called Stossel “Big Tex” because of her height. He insisted that she call him “her black friend, Botham,” she said, laughing at the memory.
“People gravitated towards him,” Stossel said of Jean. “It didn’t matter if you didn’t know him personally or you were just in the same room, you just felt welcomed by his presence.”
‘I slumped to the floor’
Stossel and Jean had a Tuesday night routine, where they’d go to church, take notes, then go out to dinner afterward and compare notes. Once on a road trip to a friend’s wedding in Nashville, they discussed the meaning of success, she said.
“He just really believed that success was your impact on people and how you helped people,” she said.
When she moved to Kilgore with her husband, she was sad to leave her friend, but Jean encouraged her and told her she’d miss every shot she didn’t take.
“No matter where you and Jacob are, I would give up a limb for y’all. Maybe two. Your black friend Bo,” he wrote.
On September 6, 2018, the day he died, the two spoke of Jean visiting Kilgore and shared photos from Dallas and Harding. She told Jean she was getting emotional “because I’m a girl.” He texted back “LOL,” but she didn’t see it until the next day — shortly before she learned Jean was dead.
“I slumped to the floor and I just kept screaming, ‘Wait, wait, wait, wait.’ I hung up the phone and then I called Botham seven times and there was no answer,” she said, weeping. “If I had just seen the text message, if I had just expanded that ‘I’m thankful for you all the time,’ maybe it would be a little less painful.”
Guyger’s mom raises sexual assault
Taking the stand to speak on her daughter’s behalf, Karen Guyger, 66, provided some background on Amber Guyger’s siblings, her separation from Amber Guyger’s father and her children’s upbringing in Arlington, just outside Dallas.
She broke down several times during her testimony and had trouble getting her words out as she recounted suspecting her ex-boyfriend of sexually molesting Amber in 1995, when she was 6.
“I was going back to the bedroom. I was fixing to take a shower and I forgot my comb. And that’s when I saw him coming down out the bedroom and then Amber came out,” she said.
Amber Guyger’s sister, Alana Guyger, later elaborated, saying the boyfriend “touched (Amber) inappropriately on a few occasions.”
Amber’s mother called police, who arrested her then-boyfriend on a count of indecency with a child, to which he pleaded guilty, Karen Guyger said.
The weeping mother said her daughter was a sweet child who made friends quickly. She loved music and played violin and trumpet as a youngster. She loved the outdoors and was always a responsible, hard worker, her sister said.
“She was the little sister the I always looked up to,” said Alana Guyger, who shared a bedroom with her sister as a child. “I’ve always admired her for being brave. She’s outgoing. She just has this certain positive energy that everybody gravitates toward. They want to be her friend.”
Amber Guyger always had an interest in policing — joining an anti-drug program in grade school and going on ride-alongs with police in high school. She dropped out of college in her junior year so she could join the police academy, Karen Guyger said.
Karen Guyger suffers from pulmonary fibrosis and her daughter always worries about her and helps take care of her, she said. She brings her mother “little thoughtful gifts for no reason,” her sister testified.
On the day Jean died, the mother said, her daughter called crying uncontrollably.
“She was very upset. I couldn’t understand her when she first told me. I couldn’t understand her because she was crying so hard,” she said.
In later conversations, her daughter told her, “She wanted to take his place. She’d always tell me she wished that she could take his place. She feels very bad about it.”
Added Alana Guyger, “She doesn’t have that same light or energy that she had before. … She’s expressed to me how she feels bad spending time with her family because he can’t be with his.”
Jean’s father takes the stand
Prior to Guyger’s mother’s testimony, Jean’s father, Bertrum Jean, took the stand, vacillating between tears and smiles. He recounted how when Botham Jean was young, he enjoyed being around him and always looked forward to picking him up at his grandmother’s house after work.
“It did not matter what time it was, I just wanted him with me,” he testified. “There were times when my friends said I was babying him, a big boy, but I enjoyed doing that.”
As he grew up, Jean, like many kids in primary school, grew embarrassed of embracing his father, “but I demanded it: ‘Come and hug your dad,'” Bertrum Jean said.
While Botham Jean was at Harding, his father also looked forward to their Sunday chats. They’d talk about church and Botham Jean would show off “his good cooking, which he learned from me.”
“My Sundays have been destroyed … because I’m not hearing his voice,” Bertrum Jean testified, saying he can’t bear to watch video of his son singing because it’s too painful.
“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?” Bertrum Jean said.
Guyger faces up to life in prison
During the trial, Guyger testified that after working long hours September 6, 2018, she returned to her apartment complex. In uniform but off duty, she approached what she thought was her apartment. She noticed the door was ajar, found a man inside and fired her service weapon, killing him.
She was actually at the apartment directly above hers, which belonged to the 26-year-old accountant from St. Lucia. Jean was on the couch, watching TV and eating ice cream when Guyger walked in, prosecutors said.
On the phone with a 911 operator that night, Guyger said 19 times she thought she had been in her apartment.
Guyger was initially charged with manslaughter, but a grand jury later indicted her for murder. The Dallas Police Department fired her.
By Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN