This week the court case involving the fatal shooting of a man by a off-duty Dallas police officer came to a close. Its a case I had been aware of, but not really followed.
No one but the shooter, Amber Guyger, really knows what happened that fateful evening. What is known is that Guyger entered the apartment of a man named Botham Jean and shot his as he sat on his couch while eating ice cream and watching TV. As the story goes, Guyger walked into the apartment thinking it was hers and reacted when confronted with the idea that someone was inside her dwelling.
This post is not about the particulars of the case. As I wrote above, the only witness to the shooting was Amber Guyger. But, after all the evidence and testimony were submitted to the court, a jury came back with a conviction of murder. What this post is about is what happened at Amber Guyger’s sentencing, where she was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Family members were given the opportunity to speak to Guyger through what is known as a “victim impact statement.” Typically, this is when those affected by the crime are able to share the pain and suffering that come about due to the criminal offense. Those making such statements are given to restrictions: no threats and no profanity. It’s not uncommon for people making a victim impact statement to weep, to blame and to vent.
But as revealed in the video clip below, Brandt Jean, Botham Jean’s brother took his impact statement in a markedly different direction:
I stand amazed at the ability of this young man to apply his faith in such a tragic situation. We might be tempted to say that Brandt Jean had every right to direct his anger and hatred toward Amber Guyger. And make no mistake, the loss of his brother was enormous. But, on this day, Brandt Jean put something above his emotions. He brought the Gospel to a Dallas courtroom.
First, Brandt Jean practiced the Gospel by communicating his forgiveness toward Amber Guygen. And then Brandt shared the Gospel, inviting Amber to give her life to Christ. By this, Brandt was sharing the source of his strength and the wellspring of his perspective. And then, in a surprise to all, Brandt Jean asked the judge if he could give Amber Guygen a hug. For me, this was Brandt Jeans means of communicating the veracity of everything he had just said to Amber.
I’ve sometimes wondered what type of terrible situation might cause me to push my Christian practice aside because of painful, bitter emotions. I hear men like Brandt Jean offer forgiveness to the person who ended his brother’s life and I wonder: would I have the wherewithal to do the same thing?
But, Brandt Jean’s actions in the courtroom were not the only ones worthy of awe and reflection. After the gavel was struck to signify the closing of the case, Judge Tammy Kemp went to her chambers, only to return a few moments later with a gift for Amber Guyger: a personal copy of the Bible. Here’s the clip:
Here’s how the ABC news affiliate in Dallas described the scene:
After stepping off the bench to comfort the Jean family, the judge walked over to Guyger, still at the defense table. She bent low and spoke in the young woman’s ear. “You understand?” the judge said, barely audible.
The judge appeared to be overcome in the moment, and left the courtroom. She returned a moment later, a small Bible in her hand.
“You can have mine,” the judge said to Guyger. “I have three or four at home.”
She then began to counsel Guyger. The pair were talking low, barely audible, just the two of them. “This is your job,” the judge said, opening the book.
The judge mentioned John 3:16, saying this will strengthen her. Guyger nodded her head.
“You just need a tiny mustard seed of faith,” the judge said. “You start with this.”
Guyger embraced the judge, who hugged her back. Guyger whispered something.
“Ma’am,” the judge said warmly. “It’s not because I’m good. It’s because I believe in Christ.”
“You haven’t done so much that you can’t be forgiven,” the judge told her. “You did something bad in one moment in time. What you do now matters.”
The judge told Guyger that she could take the Bible with her as deputies prepared to escort her to the prisoner holding cell connected to the courtroom.
And, like Brandt did before her, Judge Tammy Kemp gave Amber a hug.
To me, Judge Tammy Kemp revealed a firm grasp of what it means to walk in both truth and grace. As a judge, she had to do her job in upholding justice. But as a human being, she looked upon Amber Guyger as just another person in need of a savior.
Sometimes we need examples of how to put our faith into practice. In a Dallas courtroom, a grieving brother and a compassionate judge provided models of what it means to have the Gospel take captivity of our heart.