Breonna Taylor case resumes as jurors questioned

Published 9:52 pm Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Jury selection resumed Tuesday with the first questioning of potential jurors for the trial of a former Kentucky police officer involved in the deadly raid that killed Breonna Taylor.

Prospective jurors in Brett Hankison’s wanton endangerment trial are being questioned individually, so lawyers can determine whether they have any preexisting biases before evidence is presented.

Hankison is not charged in the death of Taylor, who was shot to death in a botched 2020 narcotics raid. But prosecutors said Hankison fired shots during the raid that went into a neighboring apartment, endangering others.

The first prospective juror called was a woman — a medical worker just like Taylor was — who said she was “neutral” on the case. Lawyers asked if she was aware Hankison’s case is separate from the shooting death of Taylor. The woman said she had no opinion about Taylor’s death and indicated she could weigh the evidence against Hankison fairly. She was retained and asked to return on Feb. 22 for the next phase of jury selection.

Two other jurors included in the first group were dismissed. One, a young man, said he had a negative opinion of police and didn’t want to be on the jury. The other, a woman, said she believed Hankison was guilty in Taylor’s death.

Eighteen prospective jurors were interviewed by late afternoon, and 11 were retained for the next step.

The jury pool was widened to about 250 because of heavy publicity surrounding Taylor’s death and racial injustice protests that took place in Louisville throughout 2020. Prospective jurors are being questioned separately, about 20 a day, to find out if any cannot be impartial on the question of Hankison’s guilt. The process is expected to take multiple weeks.

Potential jurors offered a variety of opinions on the case Tuesday. One young woman said she participated in a protest over Taylor’s death in the summer of 2020 but would be able to judge Hankison’s case impartially.

But the woman also remarked that Taylor “wasn’t a criminal, the police didn’t have a reason to go after her.” She was dismissed. Another young woman was dismissed because she looked at news reports about the case after the judge asked the jury pool not to. Others who were dismissed had schedule conflicts or expressed some bias about the case.

Questioning was set to begin last week, but was delayed by inclement weather and after Hankison needed minor surgery.

Hankison sat alongside his attorneys during the proceedings Tuesday, wearing a blue suit and bright pink tie.

Two other officers on the scene with Hankison who fired bullets that struck Taylor were not charged. Taylor’s boyfriend fired a shot that struck one of those officers, Jonathan Mattingly, in the leg. The boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, said he feared an intruder was breaking into Taylor’s ground floor apartment.

Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who worked as an emergency medical technician, was shot multiple times. 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.

Hankison has pleaded not guilty to three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment, a low-level felony that carries a prison sentence of one to five years.

Jefferson Circuit Judge Ann Bailey Smith denied Hankison’s request last year to move the trial out of Louisville. He had argued that publicity surrounding the case would make it hard to seat an impartial jury.