Now that the Amber Guyger trial, verdict and sentencing has been completed for the criminal portion in the tragic death of Botham Jean, it may be good to reflect on what we learned from the case and where we go from here. I see six takeaways.
First, for some individuals justice was served when Guyger was convicted of murder, but then for others justice was unserved when she was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Some people wanted a lesser sentence while others wanted a longer prison sentence. Like a glass of water being described as half-full or half-empty, there will always be room for interpreting what justice means, what it looks like and when it has been delivered. There is no right answer here. There is no wrong answer here. But what is not in doubt is that the trial portion of this event met all the hallmarks of a just process, where the prosecution and defense fought for their respective clients.
Second, the 12 jurors who served the City of Dallas were separated from their families and, for all intents and purposes, much of the “real world,” while listening to and viewing evidence about the death of Botham Jean. The almost two-week period these citizens gave to this case, the deep thinking they must have undertaken when they retreated to their hotel rooms and their deliberations are likely to change them in many ways. Whatever we think about their ultimate decisions, we owe them our sincere appreciation. And we should not be in the business of second-guessing their decisions as we do on Monday mornings during football season. They did the best they could and they move on.
Third, during the trial we learned about some actions undertaken by members of the Police Department. We only know what we’ve heard and we must remind ourselves that “we don’t know what we don’t know” and should not rush to judge anyone till all the facts are in hand. It is good to know that immediately after the trial was concluded, Dallas Police Chief U. Reneé Hall said that internal affairs will immediately conduct an investigation into the parties and, if necessary, those individuals will be dealt with. The chief is to be credited for moving quickly at launching this inquiry. The transparency of facts and decision-making, to the extent legally possible, will be important to communicate to the community.
Fourth. although they have both been around the block several times, it is fair to say that Dallas District Attorney John Creuzot and Judge Tammy Kemp have never been part of a case like this. However, the initial decision made by DA Creuzot to take the case to the grand jury and his statement after the sentencing phase were focused squarely on the facts of the case and the judicial process being played out. And Judge Kemp allowed the prosecution and the defense to make their legal arguments, some of which we may likely disagree on, as to best serve their clients. Playing referee is no easy task. But both deserve credit for making the process as fair as possible.
Fifth, members and leaders of the faith community are to be commended for calling for prayer, thought and peace during and after the trial. As well, members of the community who may disagree with some decisions and choose to exercise their freedom of speech to call attention to any injustices they perceive are to be thanked for continuing to fight for what they believe in. These are hallmarks about what make this country so great and we should, as Evelyn Beatrice Hall once noted, be ready to defend one’s right to say what they want even when we disapprove of what they are saying.
Lastly, and most importantly, are the words of forgiveness uttered by Botham’s brother Brandt during his victim impact statement and his minute-long embrace of Amber Guyger. Those words and that visual, immortalized on the cover of the Dallas Morning News, is one that will stay in our minds forever. This first-hand account of what we criminologist call “restorative justice,” where victims and offenders meet in real time and space, is about restitution, resolution and, ultimately, reintegration. Time will tell whether Amber Guyger will heed Brandt’s heartfelt statements but there is sincere hope that she will be able to do so. Yet there is no denying that Botham Jean will forever be in the minds and hearts of his family, friends, homeland and the city of Dallas.