Judge Tammy Kemp, of the Amber Guyger murder trial, received a wave of backlash when she the convicted killer a hug and a Bible after she was sentenced to ten years in prison for killing Botham Jean in his own home. Now, Kemp is speaking out and she’s listing her Christian faith as a reason for her actions. In a talk with the Associated Press, Kemp said she believes her actions were appropriate considering the trial was over and Guyger, a former officer, said she didn’t understand how to begin seeking God’s forgiveness.
“She asked me if I thought that God could forgive her and I said, ‘Yes, God can forgive you and has,’” Kemp said. “If she wanted to start with the Bible, I didn’t want her to go back to the jail and to sink into doubt and self-pity and become bitter. Because she still has a lot of life ahead of her following her sentence and I would hope that she could live it purposefully.”
Kemp said she had never previously acknowledged her Christian faith to a defendant or provided one with a Bible, but Guyger said she didn’t have a Bible at the end of the trial, and that’s why she handed her one. Kemp also said that Guyger asked her for a hug twice and after some hesitation, the judge embraced the former officer.
“Following my own convictions, I could not refuse that woman a hug. I would not,” said Kemp. “And I don’t understand the anger. And I guess I could say if you profess religious beliefs and you are going to follow them, I would hope that they not be situational and limited to one race only.”
Kemp’s hug towards Guyger wasn’t just condemned by social media or news pundits, but even legal experts slammed her actions. Attorney and legal analyst at MSNBC, Midwin Charles, called Kemp’s hug “unorthodox, inappropriate and wrong” on Twitter. President and Director-Counsel of LDF (NAACP Legal Defense and Educational) Sherrilyn Ifill also tweeted, “A judge is not an average citizen. She is not the victim. She is not the prosecution (technically ‘the people’). She must, especially in a case that arouses passion and conflict like this one, stand for impartial justice. She may speak words from the bench. This is too much.”
Kemp also faces real repercussions for her actions, considering a complaint was filed against her by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). The group, which routinely files lawsuits challenging religious displays in government, said Kemp was proselytizing from the bench and they filed their complaint with a Texas agency that investigates allegations of judicial misconduct.
“FFRF is urging the commission to investigate Kemp’s actions at the close of the trial: gifting a bible, instructing a convicted criminal on how to read the bible and which passages to pay attention to and proselytizing and witnessing to that convicted murderer,” the complaint read in part. “These judicial actions were inappropriate and unconstitutional.”
Again, Kemp defended her actions, saying that they occurred after the legal proceeding was over and they were not part of the official trial record.
“I didn’t do that from the bench,” she said. “I came down to extend my condolences to the Jean family and to encourage Ms. Guyger because has a lot of life to live.”
Kemp went on to say that she doesn’t know “the state of Ms. Guyger’s Christianity, if she’s even a Christian.” However, she explained that she suggested a Bible passage to Guyger about God’s love “so that she could recognize that, even given the fact that she murdered someone, God still loves her.”
On September 6, 2018, Guyger said she mistakingly entered Jean’s apartment after working a long shift as a Dallas police officer. She said she mistook Jean for a burglar and ordered him not to move. Then she shot him twice before realizing her tragic error. Jean was killed at 26 while watching television and eating ice cream.
During Guyger’s case, which lasted a full seven days, she admitted under cross-examination that she intended to kill Jean when she shot him. She also admitted that she was trained in CPR but refrained from using it on Jean after she shot him. Instead, the 911 call she made along with her actions following the shooting suggested that she was more concerned about saving herself rather than Jean.