A national atheist group has filed a formal complaint with the state of Texas after a judge in a Dallas court gave a Bible to former police officer Amber Guyger who was convicted of murdering her neighbor.
The gesture by Texas District Judge Tammy Kemp, who also suggested the Bible could change Guyger's life, came at the end of an emotional sentencing hearing this week. Guyger received a 10-year prison sentence for fatally shooting Botham Jean, an unarmed man in a Dallas apartment she had mistaken for her own.
Kemp left the bench to approach and hug the tearful Guyger, handing her what she said was one of the personal Bibles she used every day.
"This is your job for the next month," Kemp told Guyger. "It says right here. John 3:16. And this is where you start. 'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life ...'"
The Freedom from Religion Foundation, which includes presidential son Ron Reagan Jr., on its honorary board, filed its complaint Thursday with the Texas State commission on Judicial Conduct, saying Kemp's "proselytizing actions overstepped judicial authority."
The Wisconsin-based group asked the commission to investigate the incident as a violation under the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.
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During the four-minute encounter between the judge and Guyger, according to the complaint, Kemp told the 31-year-old former Dallas cop, "It's not because I'm good. It's because I believe in Christ. I'm not so good. You haven't done as much as you think you have, and you can be forgiven. You did something bad in one moment in time. What you do now matters."
The gesture came not long after Brandt Jean, the brother of the 26-year-old man Guyger killed, had been given permission by the judge to hug the defendant.
"It is perfectly acceptable for private citizens to express their religious beliefs in court, but the rules are different for those acting in a governmental role," the complaint said. "We, too, believe our criminal justice system needs more compassion from judges and prosecutors. But here, compassion crossed the line into coercion."
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The judge quickly found defenders, including the Texas-based First Liberty Institute, which supports religious freedom.
"We should all be thankful the law allows Judge Kemp's actions," said Hiram Sasser, legal counsel for the First Liberty Institute. "We stand with her and will gladly lead the charge in defending her noble and legal actions."
Asked if Kemp's gesture was a violation of court procedure, policy or protocol, Dallas County District Attorney John Cruezot tells CBS11 that if anyone complained, "I would do everything I could to support the appropriateness of it."
"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," he says. "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."
Kemp, through her office, has declined to comment to local media about the incident.
In the 2018 killing, Guyger said she had parked on the wrong level of her apartment building's parking garage by mistake and walked down a corridor to the apartment directly above hers, thinking it was her own. She became worried when she noticed the door was unlocked, she said.
Two members of the jury that convicted Guyger said the diverse panel tried to consider what the victim would have wanted when the group settled on a 10-year prison sentence instead of the 28 years sought by prosecutors.
"We all agree that (the shooting) was a mistake, and I don't think Bo would want to take harsh vengeance," a panelist identified only as Juror 21, told ABC's Good Morning America on Friday, referring to the victim by his nickname. "I think he would want to forgive her."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Botham Jean murder: Complaint made against Judge Tammy Kemp over Bible