The trial of a Georgia woman accused of shooting a Black driver to death after he had an accident with no injuries on May 7, 2019 was postponed after her lawyer failed to show up in court.
Jury selection in the much-delayed trial of Hannah Payne, 24, was due to begin on Monday, the Clayton Crescent reported, but was postponed after her criminal defense lawyer, Matthew Tucker, failed to appear without notifying the court, Law & Crime reported. Tucker reportedly claimed to have had a stroke, but the judge in the case suggested it wasn't true.
“There, however, is no indication that he had a stroke,” Judge Shana Rooks Malone said. "He failed to follow the rules of the court in notifying the court."
“This is not the first time I’ve had an issue with him failing to come and come on time,” Malone added, encouraging Payne to seek out another lawyer. “He’s doing you a disservice because you’ve been here. You have a right to counsel who is going to be diligently representing and advocating on you zealously, and he has not been doing that.”
Payne has been out on bond in the case since May 2019. She faces one count of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, one count of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment and three counts of possessing a weapon during a crime in the death of Kenneth Herring, 62, according to the Crescent.
According to police and prosecutors, Herring — who was Black — was involved in a two-car collision with an 18-wheeler near the Atlanta airport during rush hour on May 7, 2019, according to Atlanta NBC affiliate WXIA. No one was hurt in the collision, in which Herring was deemed at fault, and there was not extensive damage. He stayed at the scene for 20 minutes.
Witnesses, however, stated he appeared to be disoriented and possibly in diabetic shock, and subsequently left the scene before police arrived. His family and emergency responders say he was headed to a hospital less than three miles from the crash.
Payne, who is white, called 911 claiming that Herring was intoxicated — he was not, a medical examiner later confirmed — and decided to follow him, despite the 911 dispatcher telling her to get his license plate and cease her pursuit.
"He is drunk. I’m not. I’m sorry, but I’m here to tell you I’m not not going to follow him because he is going to cause an accident,” she reportedly told the dispatcher, according to Law & Crime.
She pulled her car around his to cut him off a mile from the accident scene, exited her vehicle and pulled out a handgun, according to witnesses and alleged video of the events, the Crescent reported.
She allegedly repeatedly yelled "Get out of the f--king car" at the older man, who never exited his vehicle, and punched him repeatedly. The video, prosecutors say, shows her putting the gun inside the vehicle and firing.
Payne claims that Herring pulled at her shirt as she walked up to his car window with her gun and was pulling her into the vehicle where she claims he had a knife. She says they then struggled over her gun and he pulled the trigger, shooting himself. (He was allegedly shot several times, WXIA reported.)
She says that Herring ripped her shirt during the struggle. However, a witness told police that, after the shooting, Payne returned to her own vehicle and changed out of what they called a "bad-girl vest" and into a pink sweater, Atlanta ABC affiliate WBS reported.
First responders arrived within four minutes of the shooting, and found Herring unresponsive. He was pronounced dead at the hospital where he'd allegedly been heading at the time of his accident.
Payne was initially charged with murder without malice, but a grand jury later upped the charges, WSB reported. She has remained out on bond for more than three years, as the trial was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the medical leave of the medical examiner in the case. It's unclear how long the current postponement will last.
Payne faces life in prison if convicted.