It was going to be hard to find much good from the high-profile trial and sentencing of the former Dallas policewoman who shot and killed a black man who she mistakenly thought was in her apartment last September.
Botham Jean was in his own apartment but had left the door slightly ajar. He had just eaten a bowl of ice cream when Amber Guyger, thinking she was coming into her own apartment, stepped into the room, was startled by him thinking he was a burglar, and shot him dead.
The jury heard the horrifying case and called it murder and her sentencing was Wednesday. The basic facts of the shooting were never in question. Guyger had worked a long shift, parked on the wrong floor and mistook Jean’s apartment with hers, which was directly below his. It wasn’t enough to convince a jury to call it manslaughter.
Guyger could have received anywhere from 5 to 99 years, and the jury chose 10. Tears were flowing everywhere in the courtroom, many believing the sentence was too lenient. The family of Jean was hurting over this death and demanded justice. They were understandably bitter and angry. No sentence was going to be good enough.
There were no winners here. An innocent man’s life was taken and a 31-year-old woman was given a 10-year prison sentence – far less than the 28 the prosecutors wanted, because that’s how old the victim in the case was going to be – but a lifetime for somebody who has to live every day with the recurring nightmare of killing an innocent man. Yes, she will still have a life after prison, but she will also have the nightmares of what she did.
By all accounts, Botham Jean was a good man, too. A Christian man with a “choir boy” personality. He was close with his tight-knit family, calling his parents in their Caribbean home every weekend. Their world was understandably shattered.
And then his 18-year-old brother, Brandt Jean, did something amazing before leaving the courtroom.
WATCH THE BROTHER'S EMOTIONAL STATEMENT BY CLICKING HERE
In Brandt Jean’s victim-impact statement, he forgave his brother’s assailant. Just like that, he forgave her, told her he loved her and wished nothing bad for her. He didn’t even want her to go to jail.
But he did want one thing from her: He wanted her to ask God for forgiveness. Because, he said, that’s what his brother would have wanted.
“If you go to God and ask Him, He will forgive you,” he told her. “I’m speaking for myself and not my family. I love you like anyone else. I’m not going to say ‘you rot and die’ just like my brother did. I personally want the best for you. I wasn’t ever going to say this in front of my family or anyone, but I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you because I think that’s exactly what Botham would want. I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want you to do. Again, I love you as a person. I don’t wish anything bad on you.”
He then asked the Court if he could hug her. He said “please” twice and was granted the wish. The two hugged for a minute in the middle of the courtroom with Guyger sobbing. They embraced for more than 30 seconds and then she hugged him again, sobbing. She broke away a couple of times, and then hugged again, and again. She was moved beyond description. The emotional embrace was beyond description, too.
It was the picture-perfect image of how Christ forgives us, for everything. It was unconditional forgiveness and love, just like Jesus offers. It was beautiful forgiveness, just like Jesus. He was sincere and genuine, a brother baring his soul in front of family. It was real. She knew it and anybody who saw it had to know it too.
The judge in the case saw it and was moved to action. She hugged Guyger and gave her a Bible and marked John 3:16, telling her to start there. What a moment that had to be!
He was putting the tragedy behind him, not letting it eat him alive inside and out. But he was also showing the character of God. A hopeless situation suddenly wasn’t so hopeless.
It gave the last chapter of sorrowful story a fresh reminder of the hope that comes only in Jesus Christ. We can pray this story didn’t conclude with the judge’s gavel.
MARK MAYNARD is managing editor of Kentucky Today and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org