When the stakes for a community were as high as they were in ex-cop Amber Guyger’s murder trial for killing an innocent man, we’re rightly focused on making sure that judges fairly and professionally follow the points of law.
But if we’re fortunate, we also have judges who understand that there are human beings involved in the criminal justice system — victims and defendants — who deserve whatever grace and mercy we can muster.
In our view, State District Judge Tammy Kemp exemplified both of those important traits as she presided over the trial in which jurors convicted Guyger and then sentenced her to 10 years in prison for fatally shooting Botham Jean in his own home. She mistakenly thought his apartment was hers and thought he was an intruder.
But it was Kemp’s actions in the emotional moments after the trial was over that make us most proud — and for which she has been unjustly vilified. She hugged Guyger, who was a uniform cop sworn to protect us now headed to a world behind bars. She spoke one-on-one with her — and she gave her a Bible.
For those gracious acts of humanity, she now faces an ethics complaint from the Wisconsin-based group, Freedom From Religion Foundation, accusing her of abusing her power and “proselytizing” from the bench.
We saw it as Kemp used her moral authority to bring compassion to a person whose mistake will cause her to relinquish years as punishment. The judge’s words may turn out to be the nub that Guyger can build on to survive what promises to be a difficult prison term.
It was the same compassion shown by Jean’s brother, Brandt, who hugged Guyger and told her he forgave her. We should point out that Kemp also hugged and consoled Jean’s mother, Allison, after this trial.
Kemp and Brandt brought together the gravity of the moment at the end of this emotional trial and brought home the need for the city to accept this verdict and sentence and find a way to start healing.
We would have felt differently if Kemp’s actions had occurred during the trial, but they happened afterward. There are no rules against that.
We’ve said all along that our hearts are with Jean’s family. This 26-year-old by all accounts was a good man with a promising life ahead of him. No one deserves to go through the pain of losing a loved one that senseless way.
But we’ve also said there is room for sympathy for Guyger, who made a tragic mistake, but one in which she had to be held accountable. A jury made sure that she was.
And Kemp showed that in a civil society, justice also means realizing that these cases are not just about facts of law. We can’t lose sight that there are real lives and real human beings involved here.
— The Dallas Morning News