A judge who got down from the stand, hugged former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, and gave her a Bible said that she thought her actions were appropriate since the trial was over and the former officer told her she didn’t know how to begin seeking God’s forgiveness.
Speaking for the first time since the moment went viral, Judge Tammy Kemp said she had never previously acknowledged her Christian faith to a defendant or given one a Bible, but Guyger said she didn’t have one at the end of her trial for the Sept. 2018 killing of her upstairs neighbor, Botham Jean.
“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.”
Guyger, 31, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for murdering Jean.
Guyger faced up to 99 years in prison but jurors said the relatively light sentence came mainly from what they thought Jean, a Christian, would have wanted for his killer.
An officer at the time of the murder, Guyger testified that she mistakenly entered Jean’s apartment, thinking it was her own. She lived one floor below Jean.
Thinking Jean was an intruder, she yelled at him to show her his hands. When he approached her, she shot him.
After Guyger was sentenced, Jean’s brother, Brandt Jean, was allowed to address Guyger directly from the witness stand. He told her he forgave her and then the two shared a tearful embrace. Soon after that, Kemp walked over to the defense table to speak with Guyger, who she said went through a “marked change” after the verdict.
Both Brandt Jean and Kemp were criticized by some for their conduct. An atheist group even filed a complaint against Kemp, alleging saying she violated the constitution by proselytizing and gifting her a bible.
“She was in a government courtroom, dressed in a judicial robe, with all of the imprimatur of the state, including armed law enforcement officers, preaching to someone who was quite literally a captive audience,” reads the complaint.
“Delivering bibles and personally witnessing as a judge is an egregious abuse of power,” said the complaint, which noted that the judge “handled the difficult trial with grace and aplomb.”
Kemp in her comments said that Guyger asked twice if she could hug her as well and, after a moment’s hesitation, the judge wrapped her arms around the former police officer.
“Following my own convictions, I could not refuse that woman a hug. I would not,” said Kemp, who is Black. “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.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.