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Judge Tammy Kemp defends decision to hug Amber Guyger following guilty verdict in murder trial

Discussing forgiveness and racial justice
Discussing forgiveness and racial justice 07:54

Dallas — The judge who gave a hug and Bible to a former Dallas police officer after she was sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing her neighbor said Monday that she watched the woman change during her trial and wants her to live a purposeful life.

"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," she said in her first interview since Amber Guyger was convicted. "Because she still has a lot of life ahead of her following her sentence and I would hope that she could live it purposefully."  

A jury found the former Dallas police officer, guilty of murder last Tuesday in the 2018 shooting death of her neighbor. Guyger testified she thought Botham Jean's apartment was her own when she opened his door and shot him, mistaking him for a burglar.

Guyger, who is white, was returning home from a 13½ hour shift and was off duty but still in uniform when she shot Jean, a black St. Lucia native who worked as an accountant. Guyger parked on what she believed to be the third floor of her apartment building's garage, but she had actually parked on the building's fourth floor, where Jean lived directly above her. Jean, 26, was sitting on his couch and eating ice cream when Guyger found the door ajar and opened fire.

After Guyger was sentenced and the jury left the courtroom, Jean's brother, Brandt Jean, was allowed to address Guyger directly from the witness stand. He told her he forgave her and that Botham would have wanted her to devote her life to Christianity before the two shared a tearful embrace.

His act of hugging Guyger has been described as "a dramatic gesture of forgiveness." Soon after that, Judge Kemp walked over to the defense table to speak with Guyger, who she said went through a "marked change" after the verdict.

"She asked me if I thought that God could forgive her and I said, 'Yes, God can forgive you and has,'" Kemp told The Associated Press.

Dallas Officer Mistaken Apartment
State District Judge Tammy Kemp gives former Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger a hug before Guyger leaves for jail, Wednesday, October 2, 2019, in Dallas.  AP

Kemp 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."

Kemp said she doesn't know "the state of Ms. Guyger's Christianity, if she's even a Christian." But she said she pointed Guyger to a Bible passage about God's love "so that she could recognize that, even given the fact that she murdered someone, God still loves her."

Judge Kemp's choice to hug Guyger has drawn considerable backlash, reports Errin Haines.

The Associated Press reporter spoke with CBSN on Monday and said, "You just don't really see the same expectation or call for kind of that grace and compassion that you see sometimes from these black family members. You don't see that same call to white Americans who have experienced violence or have lost a loved one."

Judge defends hugging Amber Guyger 06:59

Erin Donaghue contributed to this report.

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