Subject: What Godly Forgiveness Looks Like: Brandt Jean and Amber Guyger
Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.”
On September 6th, 2018, white female police officer Amber Guyger entered the wrong apartment in Dallas after a 14-hour shift, where Botham Jean, a black man, was relaxing watching television. Botham’s apartment was directly above Amber’s. She claimed she unwittingly went up one more set of stairs and never noticed it wasn’t her apartment. Moments later, she shot Botham dead, thinking he was an intruder.
The jury deliberated only five hours before rejecting her plea of self-defense, unanimously voting her guilty of murder. Those in and outside who demanded justice for Botham chanted “Give her 28 years”, one year for every year of Botham’s age (he would have turned 28 this past Sunday). The jurors said that finding Amber guilty of murder was the easy part. The difficult part came when they had to decide on the severity of the sentence for Amber, who openly admitted to intentionally shooting Botham with the intent to kill him.
Before the trial, racial tensions in Dallas ran high as debate over police use of force and racial bias dominated the news. During sentencing, prosecutors built a case that portrayed Amber Guyger as racially biased, presenting racist and offensive texts and posts to the jury.
Two of the jurors interviewed after the trial said they couldn’t bring themselves to agree with the maximum sentence asked for by the prosecutors. The jury agreed that Guyger deserved 10 years in prison with possibility of parole in five years. What happened that convinced the jury, a mix of white and black, to such a light sentence? Two things happened in the courtroom that swayed the jury.
Juror 34 said that “This case was not like any other case. You can’t compare this case to any of those other officers killing unarmed black men. Those officers that kill unarmed black men, when they got out, they went back to living their lives. Amber Guyger, ever since she killed that man, she has not been the same. She showed remorse in that she’s going to have to deal with that for the rest of her life.” The jurors all agreed that Amber Guyger showed obvious deep remorse over what she had done, and she threw herself on the mercy of the court. But the most compelling incident happened just before sentencing.
One juror said “They (prosecutors) asked us to take an eye for an eye for Botham, and I feel like he isn’t someone who would take an eye for an eye. He would turn the other cheek.” Botham Jean, a 26-year black man whose occupation was an accountant, was a Christian who believed in forgiving others who wronged him, even those meaning to do him harm. But then, after hearing and seeing Guyger’s remorse, Botham’s younger 18-year old brother Brandt took the witness stand and changed everything in the courtroom.
When Brandt took the stand, he spoke directly to Amber: “I know if you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you. I love you just like anyone else and I’m not going to hope you rot and die. I personally want the best for you. I wasn’t going to say this in front of my family, I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want for you. Give your life to Christ. I think giving your life to Christ is the best thing Botham would want for you.”
Brandt then asked Judge Tammy Kemp if he could give Guyger a hug. Judge Kemp allowed him to step off the witness stand and meet Guyger in front of the judge’s bench, where he embraced her for over a minute as she broke into tears. Within moments afterwards, Judge Kemp also hugged Amber and gave Amber her Bible, telling her to read especially John 3:16 and study God’s Word while serving out her sentence.
Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot said he accepted the jury’s sentence, saying “I respect what they did,” describing the compassion that Brandt Jean showed to Guyger as “an extraordinary act of healing and forgiveness.” In 37 years of practicing law, Creuzot said “I never saw anything like that.” That’s because what he, the jury, and all of us witnessed is not the natural response of people. It is supernatural. It is the basis of our verse this week. It is a level of forgiveness that can only come from Christ.
The word for “forgive” in Ephesians means “to bestow unconditional favor on another through releasing them from the punishment due for their sin”. This is what both Botham and his brother Brandt wanted for Amber. And, as Brandt testified, this is what Jesus Christ wants for all of us if, like Amber, we come to Christ in remorse for their sin and fall before Him as the only hope for mercy – God’s amazing grace.
Ed Croteau is a resident of Lee’s Summit and hosts a weekly study in Lees Summit called “Faith: Substance and Evidence.” He can be reached with your questions through the Lee’s Summit Tribune at Editor@lstribune.net.