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Why Brett Hankison’s upcoming trial is connected to Breonna Taylor, but not about her

Former Louisville Metro Police Department officer Brett Hankison is expected to stand trial in late February for his involvement in the high-profile, deadly raid on Breonna Taylor’s apartment in March 2020.

Hankison was one of seven officers who took part in the raid — which was connected to an investigation focused on a drug suspect who lived miles away — and one of the three who used their guns. A grand jury indicted him on three counts of felony wanton endangerment for “extreme indifference to human life” because he fired bullets into a neighboring apartment that night. 

Officers were returning fire after Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired a single shot as they attempted to enter the home after midnight. Walker later said he believed the officers were intruders.

Courtesy of WFPL

It’s important to note that no officer has been indicted on charges directly related to Taylor’s death. Her killing sparked months of racial justice protests in Louisville and nationally. Demonstrators called for the officers involved to to be charged with murder but, ultimately, that did not happen.

Stew Mathews, a lawyer based in Cincinnati, is representing Hankison. In an interview with WFPL News last week, Mathews said Hankison’s charges are related to the raid on Taylor’s apartment, because that’s when he fired his weapon. But he said Hankison isn’t on trial for killing Taylor.

“There is some relationship there, but this case really should have nothing to do with Breonna Taylor’s death,” he said.

Ben Crump, a national civil rights attorney who represented Taylor’s family, said in a statement Friday that the upcoming trial will be a reminder of “the inconceivable lack of justice.”

“These charges of wanton endangerment should be the lowest among many to result from that tragic night, not the highest and sole among them,” Crump said. “The lack of justice for Breonna Taylor is a blight on our nation’s criminal justice system.”

Hankison was the first officer from the raid fired by LMPD, after then-Chief Robert Schroeder found he “displayed an extreme indifference to the value of human life.”  Former detective Joshua Jaynes was fired from LMPD for lying on part of the application for the search warrant, although he is appealing that decision. And Myles Cosgrove, also a former detective, was fired for not identifying a target before firing the shots that an FBI ballistics report said killed Taylor.

An open jury selection process

The Hankison trial began to take shape last week.

On Friday, nearly 250 prospective jurors arrived at the Hall of Justice in downtown Louisville to answer written questions. Prosecutors and Hankison’s attorney will begin questioning jurors individually on Tuesday. They’ll be looking for any potential bias that could prevent a juror from making a fair decision.

Mathews expressed concerns about seating an impartial jury, saying he expects the trial to be “a media circus.”

“I think everyone in Jefferson County and beyond is aware of this case, and I wouldn’t be surprised if most people haven’t formed an opinion one way or the other,” he said.

Mathews previously requested the court ban reporters and the public from attending the individual questioning of jurors. He argued last week that jurors would be intimidated by the presence of cameras and wouldn’t be as open with lawyers about their bias as a result.Prosecutors from the Kentucky Attorney General’s office opposed the request. So did Michael Abate, a lawyer representing local media organizations. Abate argued that closing off public access to part of jury selection would violate the U.S. Constitution. 

Abate has represented WFPL News in public records-related issues and conducted legal reviews of stories.

Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Ann Bailey Smith attempted to strike a balance. In a court order issued last Thursday, Smith denied Mathews’ request but implemented some restrictions. 

No cameras, including still photography, will be allowed during individual questioning of jurors. The media will also be asked not to reveal jurors’ identities. They will, however, be allowed to observe the process. 

Lawyers are now expected to question 21 jurors each day for the next three weeks. By the end of February, they hope to whittle the list of potential jurors down to 50 from a pool of about 250. 

Will the trial be moved out of Louisville?

The trial is expected to start in earnest on Feb. 22. That’s when attorneys will question jurors again in a group setting to try to come up with a final list of 12. 

As of now, the trial is set to be held in Jefferson County. But Mathews, Hankison’s attorney, has the opportunity to request the trial be moved somewhere else, known as a change of venue.

Mathews previously made that request last February, citing the “avalanche of publicity, locally, nationally and worldwide.” In court filings, he argued that racial justice protests and negative coverage of the case were “likely to taint prospective jurors.”

“The combination of all of this extraordinary pervasive, protracted and prejudicial publicity and ancillary events … that is the subject of this indictment and is likely to continue throughout the trial of this matter has created a negative perception of the defendant,” Mathews wrote. 

Prosecutors pushed back on that narrative in their response, arguing that much of the negative media coverage did not focus on Hankison alone.

Judge Smith denied Mathews’ motion for a change of venue, but he could request it again after jury selection. Mathews said he hasn’t decided if he will.

If the trial is moved out of Jefferson County, state law would require it take place in a county bordering Jefferson County or “the most convenient county in which a fair trial can be had.”

Barring any move or delay, the public could see witnesses take the stand to testify before the end of February. 

Hankison is expected to testify on his own behalf, according to a witness list his lawyer submitted to the court last month. Former LMPD Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and former Det. Myles Cosgrove, the two other officers who fired their weapons that night, are also expected to be called to the stand.

Hankison’s attorney plans to call other LMPD officers who were present at the raid on Taylor’s apartment as witnesses: Mike Nobles, Anthony James, Michael Campbell and Shawn Hoover. LMPD’s firearms training supervisor, Lt. Steve Lacefield, is also likely to be called. 

The final jurors selected to decide the case may visit the Springfield Drive apartment complex where Taylor lived during the course of the trial, according to court documents.

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