A Texas judge who offered a hug and a Bible to a former police officer convicted of murder is now under attack from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
The atheist group has filed a complaint with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct against District Court Judge Tammy Kemp.
Kemp, who is black, presided over the trial of former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, who is white.
Guyger was convicted this week of killing Botham Jean, an unarmed black man, after mistaking his own apartment for her own.
On Wednesday, jurors sentenced Guyger to 10 years in prison, KTXA reported.
Kemp spoke briefly with Jean’s family, then left the courtroom, only to return with a Bible in her hands.
“You can have mine,” Kemp said in giving the convicted murderer her Bible. “I’ve got three or four more at home. This is the one I use every day.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation said Kemp crossed a line.
“We write to raise your awareness of Judge Kemp’s actions at the close of the trial — during which she gifted a Christian bible, instructing the convicted criminal on how to read the bible and which passages to pay attention to, and witnessing to that convicted murderer,” the complaint against Kemp says.
“These proselytizing actions overstepped judicial authority, were inappropriate and were unconstitutional.”
Dallas County District Attorney John Cruezot did not agree.
“If anyone complained, I would do everything I could to support the appropriateness of it,” he told KTXA.
“I can’t tell you I’ve done the same exact thing, but I have spoken to defendants, have I given them a hug, perhaps. Not given a Bible, that’s not me, but I don’t think there’s anything inappropriate about what she did, and I would support that, if anyone tried to file a complaint, I would do my best to intercede and protect her.”
Debate over the judge’s actions raged on Twitter.
Isn’t it up to Amber to decide if she wants to complain about the hug and Bible she received?? Atheist group files complaint over Judge Kemp’s post-trial exchange with Amber Guyger https://t.co/I5x5VXGjOx
— Patrice Herring (@PatriceHerrin10) October 5, 2019
Does Judge Kemp hug everyone she’s sentenced to prison or just Amber Guyger? Unless that’s how she treats everyone, and I doubt that it is, then the hug strikes me as inappropriate and unprofessional. Why does Guyger, a heinous murderer, deserve a nice hug from her judge?
— Touré (@Toure) October 3, 2019
The emotional scene at the end of the sentencing phase of the trial mirrored what happened earlier, when Brandt Jean, the victim’s younger brother, spoke to Guyger in court.
“If you truly are sorry, I know I can speak for myself — I forgive you. And I know if you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you,” he said.
“I love you just like anyone else and I’m not going to say I hope you rot and die just like my brother did. I personally want the best for you,” Brandt Jean said. “I wasn’t going to ever say this in front of my family or anyone, but I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want.”
“Give your life to Christ,” he added. “I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want you to do.”
“I love you as a person, and I don’t wish anything bad on you.”
Brandt Jean then asked permission to embrace Guyger, which Kemp granted.
Reaction to the judge’s actions varied among experts.
“Impartiality is what matters,” Amanda Frost, a professor at American University’s Washington College of Law, told The Times. “If the judge shows it throughout the trial and then shows some compassion to the defendant afterward, I don’t have a problem with that.”
Giving Guyger the Bible, however, was “questionable,” she said.
Another commentator said the outpouring of emotion was too much for the judge to ignore.
“Some judges seem to be able to turn off their emotions and not see the humanity, but I was never able to do that,” Jan Breland, a retired Austin judge, told The Times. “These people that come through our courts are human beings, regardless of the things they’ve done. They all have mamas, and they were all little boys and little girls at one time.”
“That brother, that young man, it was almost like seeing Jesus talk,” she said. “The compassion and the grace that he showed were amazing, and it obviously got to the judge.”
Deborah Rhode, director of the Center on the Legal Profession at Stanford Law School, said Kemp’s actions, coming after the trial, were not inappropriate.
“All the judge did is express some bonds of common humanity, and I don’t think we should be punishing judges for that,” she told The Times. “If anything, our legal system has suffered from an absence of adequate compassion.”