So many of us watched the trial of Amber Guyger who killed Botham Jean in his Dallas apartment. At the end of the trial so many people had questions and criticisms for Judge Kemp, especially about why she would hug a convicted murderer. Roland Martin talks to Judge Kemp to clear some things up.
“In every murder trial I usually go and talk to the victim’s family,” Kemp explained and said that she did speak to and hug each member of the Jean family. But, when she was headed back to her bench she looked at Guyger and noticed that she, “looked really hurt.” Kemp decided to go over to Guyger and said, “Mr. Jean has forgiven you. Forgive yourself so that you can live a purposeful life.” After Guyger asked if God could forgive her, Kemp says she told her absolutely and brought her a bible.
Full interview transcribed below:
Roland Martin: so many of us watched the Amber Guyger Trial, the woman who was convicted of killing Botham Jean. There were so many questions that people had in terms of actions of Judge Tammy [Kemp]; and so she reached out to us, and she joins us right now from Dallas, Texas. Judge, good morning!
Judge Tammy Kemp: Good morning sir how are you?
Tom Joyner: Good morning Judge!
Guy Torry: Good morning!
RM: Doing great, I’ve got to ask you…first and foremost so many people have been talking about your decision in terms of handing Amber Guyger a bible coming off that stand and giving her a hug; embracing her in the courtroom. Explain what took place. What happened there? Why did you do that?
TK: In every murder trial I usually go and talk to the victim’s family; and I did that in this case. I talked with all of the Jean family, I hugged all of the Jean family, and we talked about their son and what a great individual he was, and what a great loss this was. After I spoke with them I was heading back to my bench and I just saw Ms. Guyger and she just looked…I don’t know…she looked really hurt. So I just said to her, Mr. Jean has forgiven you, forgive yourself so you can live a purposeful life. And then she asked me some questions. She asked me if I thought her life could have purpose after this, she asked me if I thought God could forgive her, and I said yes to both questions. And then she mentioned that she didn’t own a bible, she didn’t have a bible and she didn’t know where to begin. And I just told her, well hold on I’ll get you a bible. And that’s what I did. And when I came back after we talked about where she might begin, and a few other questions she had, she asked me if I would give her a hug. And I was startled but when she asked a second time, I said yes of course I’ll give you a hug, because I thought it was my Christian duty to extend compassion and love to her. And I want her to come out of prison a better person than she was going in.
RM: This was a trial where you had camera in the courtroom. Was this the first time you had ever hugged somebody who had been convicted of murder, convicted of a crime?
TK: It’s the first time I’ve ever hugged somebody who had been convicted of murder and was on their way to prison. But, I’ve hugged a lot of other defendants, and I’ve also tried to give all of them words of encouragement. But I don’t just bring up the bible or God, that was at Ms. Guyger’s initiation. And Ms. Guyger had literally transformed before my eyes. She was really a broken lady at the end of that trial. And I did want her to come out of prison better than she was going in, because she’s not going to be gone for so long that she’s not going to rejoin our society.
RM: Also, so many people saw the video of the bailiff in the courtroom who was stroking the hair of Amber Guyger. I saw you on Tamron Hall’s daytime talk show where you explained what took place. What actually happened in that situation because she’s been ripped left and right because of what she did.
Sybil Wilkes: That almost as much as what you did, you hug and compassionate moment with her as well Judge Kemp. That just struck a lot of people.
TK: Well you know that’s sad because clearly the viewers are uninformed about the prison system. *Inaudible* But, the bailiff was not stroking her hair. Every woman that enters the Dallas County Jail will have every area of their body searched. And because we were on a lunch break and I didn’t want Ms. Guyger to go into the jail, she had been taken into custody because she had been found guilty. And the bailiff was searching her hair for contraband and/or weapons, which is standard procedure for Dallas County. They’re going to search a woman and a man’s hair but particularly with women because they generally have longer thicker hair. So she was examining her hair to see if there were any contraband and/or weapons in her hair, she was not stroking her hair. And if you’ll watch the video in its entirety you’ll see Ms. Guyger has kind of thick hair and she was lifting it and examining it to make sure there was nothing there.
RM: Are you surprised by the visceral reaction from so many people, especially the African American community as a result of this trial Judge Kemp?
TK: Actually I’m not because what I recognize is that for many African Americans there’s just hurt, and grief and agony. And a lot of people disputed the Jury’s verdict as limiting Ms. Guyger’s sentence to 10 years, but that was not anything that I had any power or input into. That was the decision of the jury and for the first time in a long time a white officer was being held accountable for the death of an innocent Black person. And I think the public at large wanted a lot higher sentence, but they just wanted to let all of their grief out in this Amber Guyger case. And I don’t think…one verdict is not going to make up for all of the other miscarriages of justice. And we have to remember, we had a very diverse jury, I had 5 African Americans, 5 Hispanics and 2 white on this jury. They reached the decision that they reached and I’m not going to argue with or dispute the jury’s verdict.
SW: We got a lot of questions from people about the castle doctrine that was brought in as you were giving the jury their instructions. Was that a part of the discussion or was that entered in the trial itself?
TK: I don’t know that I understand you question.
RM: When you allowed the jury to consider the castle doctrine what was a legal basis for those instructions to the jury?
TK: In Texas if a defendant can put forth even a centiliter of evidence concerning a particular defense, they are entitled to that defense. No matter how good or how bad the court might view that defense. And so generally speaking when you say that you killed someone in self defense, no matter how good or how bad the evidence of that argument is, you’re entitled to have that defense as part of your jury instruction. And the jury can deliberate weather or not you’ve met the requirements to receive that defense. In this case they decided not. If you deny a defendant a defense that they’ve put forth even the tiniest amount of evidence indicating that they’re entitled to that defense then in all probability that case will be reversed and have to be retried.
RM: So your giving those instructions was part of factoring in the potential of a conviction, an appeal and then the court reversing the jury’s decision.
SW: And the last thing is, people are asking Judge Kemp is about your relationship with the policemen’s union and thinking that there might have been….your previous relationship might have colored some of the things that happened in the courtroom. Can you address that?
TK: Well I don’t necessarily have a relationship with the policemen’s union.
SW: They endorsed you.
TK: They have endorsed me in each of the races that I have been running; and each of the races I had an opponent. They examined the both of us and thought I was better qualified.
RM: Well Judge Tammy Kemp, certainly appreciate you joining us explaining what went on behind the bench.
TJ: I certainly appreciate it. Thank you Judge Kemp.