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Ex-Dallas police officer gets 10 years for killing unarmed black neighbour in his home

A white Dallas police officer who said she mistook a neighbour's apartment for her own and fatally shot him in his living room was sentenced Wednesday to a decade in prison in a stunning courtroom scene that included the dead man's brother and the black judge embracing the sobbing officer.

In surprising turn, victim's brother and judge embrace Amber Guyger, the officer, after sentencing

Former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger is escorted from the courtroom after she was found guilty of murder by a 12-person jury in Dallas on Tuesday. (Tom Fox/pool via Reuters)

A white Dallas police officer who said she mistook a neighbour's apartment for her own and fatally shot him in his living room was sentenced Wednesday to a decade in prison in a stunning courtroom scene that included the dead man's brother and the black judge embracing the sobbing officer.

People outside the courtroom reacted angrily to the sentence given to Amber Guyger in the killing of Botham Jean, believing it was too lenient. But Jean's brother addressed her directly from the witness stand.

Brandt Jean told Guyger that his brother would have wanted her to turn her life over to Christ, and that if she asks God for forgiveness, she will get it.

"I love you as a person. I don't wish anything bad on you," he told the 31-year-old Guyger, before asking the judge, "I don't know if this is possible, but can I give her a hug?"

The judge said he could, and Brandt and Guyger stood up, met in front of the bench and embraced while Guyger cried. Judge Tammy Kemp also hugged Guyger before she was led from the courtroom.

Watch the emotional embrace between Brandt Jean and Amber Guyger:

Brandt Jean, whose brother Botham Jean was fatally shot by former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, embraced her after she was sentenced to 10 years in prison. 0:46

The shooting in September 2018 drew widespread attention for its strange circumstances and because it was one in a string of shootings of unarmed black men by white police officers.

Jurors could have sentenced the former officer to up to life in prison or as little as two years, but prosecutors asked them to send her to prison for 28 years, which is how old Botham Jean would have been if he were still alive.

She will be eligible for parole in five years, after serving half of her sentence.

As video of the dramatic hearing circulated online, critics blasted the judge, saying her hug was inappropriate. Meanwhile, at a Dallas church where the Jean family gathered to worship and Botham Jean used to lead the congregation in song, video of Brandt Jean embracing Guyger in court drew applause and "amens" when shown Wednesday night.

Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot, a former trial judge, called Brandt Jean's embrace of Guyger "an amazing act of healing and forgiveness that is rare in today's society ... especially for many of our leaders."

If Jean's 18-year-old brother can "express healing in that fashion, in his words and in his deeds, I would hope that the greater community, not just Dallas but all of Texas and all of the United States, could gain a message from that," he told reporters.

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson issued a statement saying he would "never, ever forget the incredible examples of love, faith and strength personified by Botham, Brandt and the entire Jean family."

Eating ice cream 

Amber Guyger didn't appear to show much reaction, at least from the angle of a live camera stream, as the judge read the jury's sentence. It came a day after the jury convicted her of murder.

The basic facts of the unusual shooting were not in dispute throughout the trial. Guyger, returning from a long shift that night, entered Jean's fourth-floor apartment and shot him. He had been eating a bowl of ice cream before she fired.

Guyger said she parked on the wrong floor and mistook Jean's apartment for her own, which was directly below his, and mistook him for a burglar. In the frantic 911 call played repeatedly during the trial, Guyger said "I thought it was my apartment" nearly 20 times. Her lawyers argued that the identical physical appearance of the apartment complex from floor to floor frequently led to tenants going to the wrong apartments.

Botham Jean’s mother, Allison Jean, rejoices in the courtroom after Tuesday's verdict. (Tom Fox/pool via Reuters)

But prosecutors questioned how Guyger could have missed numerous signs that she was in the wrong place. They also asked why she didn't call for backup instead of walking into the apartment if she thought she was being burglarized and suggested she was distracted by sexually explicit phone messages she had been exchanging with her police partner, who was also her lover.

One of the Jean family lawyers hailed the verdict as "a victory for black people in America" after it was handed down Tuesday.

The jury was largely made up of women and people of colour.

A prosecutor told jurors on Wednesday that when deciding the sentence, they could consider racially insensitive texts that Guyger sent to her police partner in March 2018. Guyger had commented about black police officers on the force having "a different way of working and it shows."

Jean was watching television on his couch and eating ice cream when Guyger entered and shot him. (Jeff Montgomery/Harding University/Associated Press)

Also released in the sentencing phase was a series of text messages between police officers on the force when they complained about having to work a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in January 2015.

Her lawyer, Toby Shook, said the texts were sent "at a whim" and weren't indicative of Guyger's whole life. He asked jurors to consider a black woman who credited Guyger with helping her recover from drug use.

A woman who met Guyger when she busted a drug house testified that she helped her turn her life around.

LaWanda Clark told jurors she struggled with a crack cocaine addiction and that Guyger wrote her a ticket on the day of the drug bust. She said Guyger told her that the ticket could be the impetus to turn her life around.

While Clark was speaking, lawyers showed jurors a photo of Guyger attending Clark's graduation from a community drug treatment program. Clark said Guyger treated her as a person, not as "an addict," and said she is now sober.

With files from CBC News

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