Seven months after an off-duty Dallas police officer shot Allison Jean’s son, Botham, dead in his apartment, her attorney called with a warning: the 911 call capturing Botham’s last moments was going to be played on the evening news.
Jean was on a business trip in Washington, DC, alone in her hotel room. She didn’t want to have nightmares, so she waited until the next morning to listen to the recording online.
The white officer who shot Botham, Amber Guyger, told authorities 19 times during the call that she believed she was entering her own apartment, which was one floor below, and that the 26-year-old unarmed black man was an intruder. Guyger said she started giving first aid after calling police, an affidavit said.
As Jean listened to the 911 call in an empty conference room, she felt an anger that surprised her. She said she couldn’t hear anyone helping Botham as he lay dying in his own home. “He was really treated like an animal,” Jean said. In that moment in April, she realized she wasn’t ready for the murder trial.
Ever since then, Allison Jean has been preparing herself to face her son’s killer. That day will come this week, with opening statements and testimony.
Guyger has pleaded not guilty to murder; her attorney has called the shooting “a terrible tragedy that resulted from a true mistake.” If convicted, the fired officer faces up to life in prison. Her attorney has declined further comment, citing a gag order.
To prepare for the trial, Jean, 52, has attended therapy in St. Lucia where she lives and where Botham grew up. She has turned to prayer and fasting to strengthen her spiritually. Her therapist and attorney have tried to walk her through what to expect during the trial, and ways she can cope if it gets overwhelming. Her experience provides a window into what families of crime victims go through as they face those accused of killing their loved ones.
“My hope for the trial is for my son to get justice … that the person who inflicted harm on him gets punished for the crime that she committed,” Jean said.
Painful to say Botham’s name
Botham liked to call his mother “GG” – short for Governor General, the title given to Queen Elizabeth II’s representative in Commonwealth countries. He was always telling his mother to look on the bright side of life, and she said his positive attitude encouraged her.
An accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Botham would always take care to dress well, and encouraged her to do the same, she remembered. “You know you have to look the part,” he would say.
He was her middle child, full of energy like the English cricket player he was named after, Sir Ian Botham. Jean gave him a middle name from the Bible – Shem, who was one of Noah’s sons – and Botham grew up to be a man of faith. He grew up in the Church of Christ, led worship services at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, which he graduated from in 2016, and sang with the Good News Singers, a spiritual a capella group on campus. He was dedicated to charity work, and after his death, his family established a foundation to support community organizations he cared about.
On the night Botham was killed last September, Jean was visiting her daughter, Allisa Findley, 37, in New York. A social worker at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas called Findley to say that Botham had been shot through the heart and died. She woke up her mother, trembling.
Jean sobbed in disbelief. She had just said a prayer for the protection of her three children. How could Botham be dead?
She flew to Dallas. For days after the shooting, she couldn’t eat a full meal. “I was having grapes, morning, noon and night,” said Jean.
She would forget to brush her teeth. She left her iPad at an airport. She felt like she was losing her memory. She saw a therapist before she left Dallas, then found another in St. Lucia after returning home.
Jean realized she didn’t want to confront Botham’s death, so much that she could barely bring herself to use certain words. “It was difficult for me to say words like ‘die’ and ‘death’ and ‘kill’ and ‘murder,’” she said.
She couldn’t bring herself to say Botham’s name on some days. And Guyger’s name, either.
“That was, for me, the most difficult part … having to say his name, say her name, say what happened. It’s still very, very difficult,” she said.
Her therapist told her she was so focused on looking after the needs of her family that she wasn’t grieving.
“I just felt that as long as everybody around me was OK, I am OK,” Jean said.
She said her therapist asked her, “What about you?”
“I told her I didn’t know, I just didn’t know about me.”
Preparing for the trial
In the days after the shooting, protesters in Dallas chanted Botham’s name in the streets.
At the time, civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, one of the Jean family attorneys, called it an egregious example of the constant threat of deadly violence African Americans live with.
“We’re still dealing in America with black people being killed in some of the most arbitrary ways, driving while black, walking while black, and now we have to add living while black,” he said last year.