Judge rejects request to move trial of only officer charged in Breonna Taylor killing

A defense lawyer said an "avalanche" of bad publicity has tainted the jury pool.

March 25, 2021, 3:54 PM

A judge has rejected the request by a fired police officer facing charges related to the killing of Breonna Taylor to change the venue of his trial after his attorney argued that the jury pool in Jefferson County, Kentucky, has been tainted by an "avalanche" of negative publicity.

Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Ann Bailey Smith ruled that moving Brett Hankison's trial at this point is premature, but cautioned that she remains open to granting the request if it becomes apparent that an impartial jury can't be seated in Louisville.

An attorney for Hankison said it would be nearly impossible for the former Louisville Metro Police Department officer to get a fair trial in Jefferson County, where Oprah Winfrey has paid for numerous billboards to be erected calling for Hankison and two other white officers to be indicted for the shooting of the 26-year-old Black woman in her own home.

During Thursday's hearing, defense attorney Stewart Matthews told Smith that because Hankison is the only officer facing criminal prosecution as a result of Taylor's death, he is a "convenient target" for people who want revenge, according to the Louisville Courier Journal.

Jim Lesousky, a prosecutor with the state attorney general's office, asked Smith to deny the request. He noted a jury was successfully seated on Tuesday in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd, a case that generated just as much, if not, more protests and pretrial publicity.

Former Louisville Metro Police Officer Brett Hankison is pictured in a booking photo released by the Shelby County Detention Center in Kentucky on Sept. 23, 2020.
Shelby County Detention Center

Hankison was indicted in September on three felony counts of wanton endangerment for firing errant shots that penetrated a wall in Taylor's apartment and entered a neighboring residence occupied by three people. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is scheduled to go on trial in August.

Matthews argued that the pretrial publicity, protests and statements by nationally known celebrities portraying Hankison as a "murderer" have snowballed to the point that an unbiased jury can't be found in Jefferson County, which, according to U.S. Census data, is the most diverse county in Kentucky.

The billboards put up around Louisville to encourage residents to "demand that the police involved in killing Breonna Taylor be arrested and charged," quoting Winfrey as saying, "If you turn a blind eye to racism, you become an accomplice to it."

Matthews also argued that the public disclosure of Hankison's termination letter from the police department -- in which former police Chief Robert Schroeder said Hankison used deadly force by "wantonly and blindly" firing 10 shots into Taylor's apartment -- "most certainly lends an unfair and unsubstantiated air of credibility to the charges" against his client.

Breonna Taylor, 26, was shot and killed by Louisville, Kentucky, police officers after they allegedly executed a search warrant of the wrong home.
Courtesy Tamika Palmer

Taylor, an emergency medical technician, was shot to death in her apartment on March 13, 2020, when Louisville police served a warrant in connection to a drug investigation targeting Taylor's ex-boyfriend. Police said that although they had obtained a "no-knock" warrant, they knocked and announced themselves before ramming open the front door.

Taylor's new boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, claimed the officers neither knocked nor announced themselves, prompting him to fire a single shot at them as they came through the door, hitting Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly in the leg.

Police responded by firing a total of 32 shots, authorities said.

Mattingly and former officer Myles Cosgrove fired a combined 22 shots, six of which hit Taylor. Hankison was standing outside the apartment and fired 10 shots through a sliding glass patio door, missing Taylor.

State Attorney General Daniel Cameron justified the use of deadly force because Walker fired the first shot. Cameron said his office did not present evidence to the grand jury supporting any homicide charges against the officers.

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