THE court trial of Amber Guyger who was found guilty of murdering Saint Lucian Botham Jean is over but events that occurred immediately after the trial are still reverberating around the world.
Here in Saint Lucia, the response to her being found guilty for murder was not as resounding as what obtained in the US, with protestors taking to the streets, and letting their voices be heard inside the courtroom. Even still, social media sites were flooded with opinions from Saint Lucian folk, many of whom were at first elated that Botham’s killer had been found guilty, and then disappointed to learn she’d been sentenced to 10 out of a possible 99 years. The sentence handed down to Amber Guyger this week means that she can be up for parole after serving five years of her sentence.
Amid the angry protests in and out of the courthouse a Saint Lucian was caught in the fray. Safiya Paul, 31 was arrested on a misdemeanour charge of obstruction of a highway or passageway and released from jail Thursday morning on a $500 bond (bail), a Dallas news channel said. She was one of several protesters who took to downtown Dallas to protest the 10 – year jail sentence Guyger received for the fatal shooting of Jean who was in his apartment at the time eating ice cream, according to court reports.
But the two moments that stunned the world after the trial due to their emotional appeal were when Jean’s younger brother Brandt hugged Guyger telling her he forgave her for killing his brother. State District Judge Tammy Kemp hugged her as well giving Guyger a bible in the process, in plain view of everyone. Others who watched the trial swore they’d also seen a black police officer fixing Amber’s hair inside the courtroom before she was taken away.
The responses were mixed around the globe. Some felt Brandt’s hug was an incredible act of forgiveness and mercy, while others felt it was a step in the wrong direction towards fixing the problems with America’s justice system as it related to sentences handed down to Blacks and Minorities. Kemp’s hug also drew criticism.
Brandt, in his victim-impact statement said he wished Guyger did not have to serve any time in prison.
“I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want for you. I love you as a person, and I don’t wish anything bad on you,” he said, asking Judge Kemp if he could hug Guyger.
Judge Kemp is facing a different reality in Dallas today, after her sterling time on the bench in the high-profile murder case. She has been accused of religious coercion in handing a bible to Guyger.
“You can have mine. I have three or four more at home,” she was quoted as telling the former Dallas police officer as the bible was presented.
“This is the one I use every day. This is your job for the next month. It says right here. John 3:16. And this is where you start. ‘For God so loved the World that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life …’” Justice Kemp told Guyger, according to CNN.
An organization calling itself the Freedom From Religion Foundation in its complaint accused the Judge of “proselytizing actions” that overstepped judicial authority. According to CNN the organization has asked the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct to investigate. Reports are that the judge’s actions were seen as an act of compassion that undermined her credibility as a judge.
But just before jurors presented their punishment, they heard tearful testimony from persons who probably knew Jean best. His father, Bertrum cried as he testified on day two of the sentencing phase of Guyger’s trial.
“How is it possible? I will never see him again. I’m still not ready for it. It hurts me that he’s not there. How could that happen to us, our family? 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,” he said.
Guyger’s first defense witness was her mother who told the jury how her daughter hadn’t been the same since shooting Jean.
“She always would tell me she wishes she could’ve taken his place. She feels very bad about it,” she said through tears.
Alana Guyger, Amber Guyger’s sister said that since shooting Jean, her sister “doesn’t have the same light or energy that she had before.”
“She expressed to me how she feels bad spending time with her family because he can’t be with his,” Alana Guyger said.
Close friends from Guyger’s childhood also testified on her behalf. Maribel Chavez recalled fond memories from their high school mariachi band.
“She does not feel like she deserves to have any kind of happiness,” Chavez said, adding that they’d both had a tough time at school.
District Attorney John Creuzot said he expected a longer sentence. The Dallas Morning News quoted him as saying that for over 37 years he had seen many cases and he had long stopped trying to guess what a jury would do and had learned to accept their judgment.
Omar Suleiman, a civil rights activist and imam while acknowledging Brandt’s gesture of mercy to Guyger noted that this should not suggest that people should not fight against injustice.
Another activist, Dominique Alexander showed his disgust with the 10-year sentence handed down to Guyger. “What justice did today was slap us back in the face with levels of injustice,” he said.
Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall Wednesday evening spoke of an internal investigation into the conduct of two police officers in connection to the case.
Meanwhile that same evening at a church service, the same church Jean attended, Pastor Sammie Berry said, “When we heard the verdict it was what we were looking for, and then when we heard the sentence, it caused us to stand still a little bit.”
Jean’s mother, Allison, compared the year since the shooting to being “in the eye of the hurricane.”
“What happened to us has really tested my faith in God. It almost made me give up. But when I reflected on Botham’s own motivation, he would always say, ‘don’t give up look on the bright side,’ ” Allison said.
Jean’s father, at the church service, told worshippers that despite his family’s deep pain, they had found comfort in faith.
“We have mourned. We have wept. But we trust that God will do the rest,” he said.