Inside Jury Selection For Brett Hankison’s Trial Day 1: Who’s Moving On, Who Isn’t

The jury selection process in the wanton endangerment trial of former LMPD detective Brett Hankison got underway on Tuesday, one week after it was initially slated to begin.

Attorneys representing Hankison and the Kentucky Attorney General’s office interviewed 19 potential jurors on Tuesday, probing for biases in the questioning process known as voir dire. By Feb. 22, the court is attempting to whittle a total of 250 potential jurors into a pool of 50. Out of those 50, 12 jurors and several alternates will ultimately be picked to serve on the case.

On Tuesday, 11 potential jurors who took the witness stand for individual questioning were chosen to advance to the next round of the selection process. The first potential juror selected was a Black woman, but eight of the 11 people who moved to the next round appeared to be white men. The remaining two jurors who were selected to move on were an Asian woman and a white woman.

Hankison, wearing a pink tie over a patterned purple dress shirt, watched the proceedings from his seat between his lawyers. He is charged with three counts of wanton endangerment for shots he fired during the March 12, 2020 raid on Breonna Taylor’s apartment that entered a neighboring apartment.

The potential jurors were returning to court on Tuesday after having completed a questionnaire about potential biases and knowledge of the case on Jan. 28. 

Tuesday’s questions largely followed up on answers potential jurors had provided in the questionnaire, focusing on things like how much potential jurors knew about the LMPD raid that killed Breonna Taylor, whether they had opinions on Hankison and the police, whether they participated in the protests that erupted following Taylor’s death and how easily they might be able to avoid the news, social media and discussions with others about the case. They were also reminded that the charges they were looking at were not for Taylor’s death and asked if they could separate their feelings and knowledge of her killing from the wanton endangerment case they were being asked to consider. 

After questioning, attorneys from both the prosecution and defense had the opportunity to request that a potential juror be dismissed from consideration.

The first potential juror selected to advance, the Black woman, said she did not know much detail about the raid on Taylor’s apartment and had no opinion of the protests that followed. 

Responding to questions about whether she believed LMPD treated people of different races fairly, she said no, but then later added, “African Americans are mainly targeted for things. We’ll get in trouble for things more than a caucasian person or a person of a different race.”

Some potential jurors were dismissed after expressing firm opinions about aspects of the case.

The second potential juror questioned on Tuesday, a white woman, said she believed Hankison had murdered Taylor “in her sleep” and that she had sent letters to politicians advocating for justice in Taylor’s killing. The young man who took the stand after her described police as “lame,” accusing officers of pulling guns on him and friends when he was younger. A young white man said he had a “very positive” opinion of Hankison, that “accidents happen” and that the media had been lying about the police. All three were dismissed.

Others were dismissed after different issues arose. For instance, a man who said he is married to a MetroSafe employee was dismissed after prosecutors were concerned that they had interacted with her as part of the case. 

A Black woman was dismissed after she told the court she had a health issue that would make it hard to serve and could not afford to miss work as she was a month behind on her rent and LG&E bill. 

One was rejected because they disregarded the judge’s orders and read a news article about the case after they had filled out their questionnaire. They said they did so because they did not understand what Hankison was being charged with.

Several potential jurors told the court they did not wish to serve on the jury. A few others scheduled to be questioned on Tuesday were unexpectedly absent. 

At times, questioning probed into personal lives, as it did for a potential juror who said his girlfriend had protested in 2020 and worried that serving on the jury could cause “tension” with his partner. He was selected to advance.

Two potential jurors — the woman behind on bills and another Black woman — said they had participated in the protests that followed Taylor’s killing. Neither advanced.

Some jurors had difficulty understanding the charges Hankison is facing.

One potential juror, an older white man, had written in his questionnaire that he questioned the charges facing Hankison given that nobody was hurt. Judge Ann Bailey Smith intervened to ask him about an incident in which he had been robbed at gunpoint “20 years ago or so” in the downtown Louisville shop he owned. 

“Did you believe that the person or people who robbed you should have been charged even though you didn’t get injured?” she asked. 

The man said that he did. He was selected to advance.  

The potential jurors who faced the least scrutiny during questioning were those who said they knew little about the case and had no opinion of Hankison or policing in Louisville.

Voir dire is typically done in a group setting, but due to the high profile nature of the case, it is being done individually, with only one potential juror in the courtroom at a time.

The jury selection process was meant to begin on Feb. 1 but was delayed after Hankison went through what Judge Smith described as an unexpected, minor surgery. The new start date, Feb. 3, was ultimately scratched as an icy winter storm approached Louisville. 

Despite the delay, with 11 potential jurors selected on day one, the court was well on its way to reaching its goal of 50 by Feb. 22. 

Ahead of voir dire on Tuesday, Hankison’s attorney Stew Matthews made a last-minute request for a change of venue, saying he was “astounded” by the number of prospective jurors who indicated on questionnaires that they had negative views of LMPD or Hankison. He also voiced concern that potential jurors had latched onto inaccurate accounts of what happened during the Breonna Taylor raid.

“I don’t think anyone wrote anything that was entirely accurate,” he said.

Matthews had previously tried to get the location of the trial moved and failed. In recent weeks, he had asked that members of the media be barred from the courtroom during individual voir dire, saying their presence could have a “chilling effect” on how candid potential jurors would be. While that motion also failed, Judge Smith did prohibit all cameras from the courtroom, saying it would help potential jurors be candid.

Juror questioning resumed on Wednesday at 10 a.m. 

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