Jury selection moving swiftly in Breonna Taylor-related case
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Jury selection is moving swiftly in the trial of a former Kentucky police officer involved in the botched drug raid that left Breonna Taylor dead, despite concerns that intense publicity would make it hard to seat a jury in Taylor’s hometown.
Former Louisville police officer Brett Hankison has been charged with firing shots that went into an apartment next door to Taylor’s just before 1 a.m. on March 13, 2020. Hankison was the only officer charged in the case, though the three wanton endangerment charges are not related to Taylor’s shooting death.
The jury pool was expanded to about 250 people because of Taylor’s widely publicized shooting and massive street protests in Louisville in 2020. Attorneys began questioning prospective jurors one by one on Tuesday. They’re trying to determine who might be biased on the question of Hankison’s guilt.
Jefferson County Circuit Judge Ann Bailey Smith indicated Wednesday morning that the selection was moving along more efficiently than expected.
“Yesterday, I was hoping we got six (potential) jurors through; we got eleven,” Smith said.
Smith has said she wants to use the individual questioning process to whittle the pool down to 50 candidates who have shown they can be impartial about the high-profile case. By the end of the day Wednesday, a total of 22 prospective jurors had been retained: 13 men and nine women. The process was initially expected to take multiple weeks, but could finish in a few days.
Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who worked as an emergency medical technician, was shot multiple times during the narcotics raid. No drugs were found in her apartment, and the warrant used to enter by force was later found to be flawed. The case also shined a light on the use of “no knock” warrants, which were later banned in Louisville.
Two other officers on the scene with Hankison who fired bullets that struck Taylor were not charged in her death.
Hankison’s attorney, Stewart Mathews, filed a motion last year to have the trial moved but Smith denied it. The judge said she wants to try to find a jury in Louisville before considering other options.
Ahead of the start of jury selection on Tuesday, Mathews reentered his motion to have the trial moved, arguing that questionnaires filled out by many prospective jurors displayed bias and a misunderstanding of Hankison’s case. The judge quickly denied that motion.
On Wednesday, the first three prospective jurors questioned by attorneys were retained. Some jury candidates have been asked about their experience with firearms; their opinion of Louisville police and whether their jobs or personal lives would interfere with them serving on a jury. Two prospective jurors who have said they believe Hankison is guilty have been dismissed.
Most people questioned have heard of Taylor’s case, though many said they were not familiar with the nature of Hankison’s charges.
Hankison was fired in 2020 and accused of “blindly” firing into Taylor’s apartment by police officials after he moved to Taylor’s sliding door as other officers were at the front door.
After officers burst in, Taylor’s boyfriend fired a shot that struck one of those officers, Jonathan Mattingly, in the leg. Officers returned fire, striking Taylor. Her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, said he feared an intruder was breaking into Taylor’s ground floor apartment.
Three of Hankison’s shots went into a neighboring apartment, endangering those residents, prosecutors said.