A Black Dallas judge is defending herself for the first time after receiving push back for showing former cop Amber Guyger compassion after the woman’s sentencing.
Judge Tammy Kemp was shown on live courtroom footage Wednesday hugging Guyger, who was recently convicted of murdering Black PwC associate Botham Jean in his own apartment Sept. 6, 2018.
“That’s what everyone wants to talk about – the hug,” the judge told WFAA in an interview published online Monday.
Kemp has been heavily criticized for hugging Guyger, and that criticism extended to Brandt Jean, the victim’s younger brother, when the 18-year-old publicly forgave Guyger and said he didn’t want to see her in jail in a victim impact statement Wednesday.
“I don’t know if this is possible,” Brandt Jean asked Kemp at the end of his statement, “but can I give her a hug please, please.”
She paused before she ultimately allowed it.
She later told Fox 4 that in that moment she was thinking about the Dallas County sheriff’s policy prohibiting contact with defendants.
“But when he said please a second time, I just could not refuse him,” she said. “I could not, and so I said yes.”
“I thought they both needed it, and that’s why I didn’t want to stand in the way of it,” Kemp added.
She also walked over to Guyger herself after a jury handed down a 10-year prison sentence to the woman.
“What I told her was Brandt Jean has forgiven you. Please forgive yourself, so that you can live a purposeful life when you get out of prison,” Kemp said.
“She asked me if God would forgive her, and I said ‘yes I believe he will. He will forgive you,'” Kemp said.
At that point, Kemp said Guyger told the judge she doesn’t have a Bible and doesn’t know where to start.
“And I just said I’ll get you one,” the judge revealed.
She left the courtroom briefly and returned with a Bible for Guyger.
“You can have mine. I have three or four more at home,” Kemp told the woman. “This is the one I use everyday before I go to court.
“This is your job for the next month… Right here: John 3:16. And this is where you start, ‘for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son’…”
Expressing the sentiment and gifting the Bible later earned Kemp a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which argued to the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct that Kemp’s “proselytizing actions overstepped judicial authority.”
Kemp later explained her decisions to Fox 4.
“I saw someone who was really really hurting deeply,” she said, “and if a hug was going to help her, I had to extend love and compassion to her.”
Though many have criticized Kemp on social media, the judge told The Washington Post others sent her Bibles and commended her for how she treated Guyger.
Kemp said the Guyger who left her court in handcuffs wasn’t the same woman who first entered it when the murder trial began Sept. 23.
“She changed dramatically,” Kemp said. “Brandt gave her some hope.”
Kemp said she had been concerned about what the victim’s brother would say when she saw he was the only person scheduled to give a victim impact statement, according to WFAA.
“And then I heard [the prosecutor] whisper, ‘Please don’t use any vulgarity,'” Kemp said. “So I didn’t know what to expect.”
She said the 18-year-old’s statement shocked her.
“He spoke with such compassion,” she said.
When she thought of Jean’s parents she understood, Kemp said.
“I thought, of course, this is who this young man is,” she said.
The judge also explained why she decided to hug Guyger a second time after hugging Jean’s family and noticing a divide between Black and white court attendees, according to WFAA.
“I didn’t want to neglect Ms. Guyger,” she said.
Kemp said she frequently talks to defendants to encourage them before the go to prison.
“My kindness isn’t limited to Amber Guyger,” Kemp said.