By Brad Brooks
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – Former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was sentenced by a Texas jury to 10 years in prison on Wednesday, after a jury found her guilty of murder for walking into a neighbor’s apartment thinking it was her own and shooting him dead.
The same jury took less than six hours on Tuesday to find Guyger guilty in the Sept. 6, 2018, killing of Botham Jean, a 26-year-old black PwC accountant. His death sparked street protests last year, particularly when prosecutors initially opted to bring the lesser charge of manslaughter against Guyger, 31.
The sentence was less than the 28 years prosecutors had sought. Judge Tammy Kemp said the jury had imposed no fine. Guyger glanced quickly at her family but betrayed no emotion as she was led out of the courtroom.
Jean’s slaying by a white police officer had provoked street protests, particularly after prosecutors initially opted to charge Guyger with manslaughter rather than murder.
Lawyers for the victim’s family said they believed the verdict was the first time a white female police officer had been found guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of an unarmed black man.
“This is a historic case and history provides us with a teachable moment,” said civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who also represented the family of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager shot and killed in 2012 by a civilian neighborhood watchman who was later cleared in court.
This case was unlike other recent high-profile killings, such as those of Michael Brown in Missouri and Philando Castile in Minnesota, since Guyger was not on duty or responding to a reported crime when she fired.
Outside the courthouse, protesters blasted the sentence as too short. They shouted, “No justice, no peace!” and “This is so wrong!”
‘HOW CAN THIS BE POSSIBLE?’
Jean’s father cried as he told the jury of his intense pain following the murder of his son, who he said brought joy to those around him.
“How could we lose Botham – such a sweet boy? He tried his best to live a good honest life. He loved God. He loved everyone,” Bertrum Jean said as he wept. “How can this be possible? I’ll never see him again. I want to see him!”
Guyger, who had spent four years on the force before the killing, took the rare step of testifying in her own defense during her trial, tearfully expressing regret for shooting Jean but saying she had believed her life was in danger when she pulled the trigger.
Prosecutors also argued that Guyger did little to help Jean even after realizing her mistake, calling the 911 emergency phone number for an ambulance but not administering first aid.
During the trial, Guyger’s defense attorney said she was “on autopilot” after a long work day, when she mistakenly parked on the wrong floor in the garage and was able to enter Jean’s apartment because he had left the door slightly ajar.
“I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. I have to live with this every single day,” Guyger told the jury of eight women and four men.
In cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Jason Hermus asked her, “When you shot him twice, you intended to kill him, didn’t you?”
“I did,” Guyger responded, in a calm voice.
(Reporting by Brad Brooks; Editing by Scott Malone and Cynthia Osterman)