LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Saying Jefferson County is "large and diverse," the Kentucky Attorney General's office has asked a judge to keep former Det. Brett Hankison’s wanton endangerment trial in the Breonna Taylor case in Louisville.
“The large and diverse population of Jefferson County bodes well for the seating of a qualified jury in this case,” according to the motion filed Wednesday.
Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was fatally shot by Louisville Metro Police officers during a March 13, 2020 raid.
In Jefferson County, about 22% of all residents are Black, according to 2019 census estimates. Only one other county in the Louisville metro area has a Black population above 10% - Hardin County, at 12.1%.
In February, attorney Stew Mathews, who represents Hankison, asked Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Ann Bailey Smith to move the trial because of a “media circus” that has portrayed Hankison and other officers in a “false and negative light."
He claimed the “avalanche of publicity” has created a “negative impression” of Hankison, causing the potential jury pool in Louisville to be “irreparably harmed.”
Matthews asked that the trial be moved to an adjacent county so Hankison could get a fair and impartial trial.
But while acknowledging that the Taylor case has been heavily publicized, Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office argued that Hankison’s attorney has not proved that “public opinion is so aroused in the county as to reasonable preclude a fair trial.”
And the prosecution pointed out that potential jurors will be individually questioned to determine if they have formed an opinion on Hankison’s guilt or innocence.
The Kentucky Supreme Court recently upheld a judge’s denial of a change of venue motion, even though there had been extensive adverse pre-trial publicity, according to the motion. Jurors in that case were individually questioned and removed if they had formed an opinion because of publicity.
Also, a change of venue would “likely create a hardship for the victims as well as lay witnesses, all of whom reside in Louisville.”
Under state law, witnesses may be reimbursed for mileage, but there is no provision for meal or lodging expenses.
A hearing on Mathews’ request for a change of venue has been scheduled for March 25.
On Sept. 23, Hankison was charged with firing at a neighboring apartment unit, showing "extreme indifference to human life" for three people inside, a grand jury concluded.
Cameron said a man, pregnant woman and child were inside that unit at the time.
Hankison also shot into another apartment, but it was empty.
Each wanton endangerment charge carries a prison sentence of 1 to 5 years, if convicted.
The last trial moved out of Jefferson County was in 2002 when the case against a former Jefferson County corrections officer accused of killing an inmate in 1998 was held in Lexington. The former officer, Timothy Barnes, was acquitted in the death of Adrian Reynolds.
Other police officers have been tried in Louisville, including McKenzie Mattingly on a a murder charge in the 2004 death of 19-year-old Michael Newby. Mattingly was found not guilty.
Police shot and killed Taylor, an emergency room tech and former EMT, during an undercover raid on her apartment on Springfield Drive as part of a series of raids elsewhere that targeted narcotics trafficking.
Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, thought they were being robbed, according to his attorney, and fired at officers when they rushed in, hitting Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly in the leg.
No drugs or money were found in her home.
Neither Hankison nor the two other officers who fired their weapons during the raid -- Mattingly and Det. Myles Cosgrove -- were indicted in Taylor's death. Taylor was killed by one of Cosgrove's bullets, according to FBI ballistics findings released by Cameron.
Taylor’s death touched off Louisville’s racial justice protests and gained national prominence as demonstrations spread across the U.S. in response to the death of George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis man who died after a white officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck as he pleaded, “I can’t breathe.”
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