The murder case against a young white woman who witnessed a “minor” hit and run accident in Georgia before chasing down the guilty driver and shooting him dead will move forward, a judge announced Tuesday morning. Photos published to social media showed Hannah Payne with her head hung in apparent shame as the announcement was made in Clayton County Court. Payne made news in stunning fashion earlier this month when she was arrested for the killing of Kenneth Herring, a 62-year-old driver who may or may not have even known he was involved in the hit and run on the afternoon of May 7.
The judge in the case found enough probable cause to uphold the murder charges and have the case proceed, local reporter Kaitlyn Pratt tweeted.
Her lawyer, doubling down on his initial insistence that Payne was simply trying to be a good Samaritan, told the court that his client was trying to make a citizens arrest. However, prosecutors countered that citizens could only initiate such arrests when felonies are involved, not misdemeanor fender benders.
The apparent vigilante killing was reminiscent of the murder charges faced by George Zimmerman, the Florida neighborhood watch volunteer who stalked and killed Trayvon Martin after police advised him against approaching the unarmed teenager in 2014. In Payne’s case, the 21-year-old reportedly witnessed Herring hit another car and drive off. That apparently prompted Payne, who was legally carrying her concealed gun, to drive after Herring for about a mile, catch up to him, block his car with hers, get out of her car, engage in a struggle with him and then shoot him to death.
Payne has been held in Clayton County Jail without bail since she killed Herring in what police have decidedly said was not road rage.
Upon first glance, there was no apparent direct evidence to suggest the shooting was racially motivated. But the circumstantial evidence, bolstered by the tragic trend of white people not in law enforcement trying to police Black people, appeared to be quite strong. That was especially true when factoring in how the shooting took place in Georgia, a state that prides itself on its role in the Confederacy.
Emails what were purportedly sent by Payne’s friends to NewsOne insisted she was not a racist. (NewsOne never reported Payne was a racist.)
Herring’s wife responded in part by questioning Payne’s motive. Christine Herring said she wanted to know why Payne felt the need to take the law into her own hands and kill her husband.
“I don’t know what happened with the accident, but if anything you should have taken his tag number down and called police, and that’s what she should have been concerned with, not running him down,” she said May 11. “What is she? The traffic police? A security guard? I don’t know.”
She continued: “I don’t understand why she got out of the car with the gun. I am still trying to get past that. If I can get past that, then maybe I can understand the situation a little more, because nobody in their right mind does that.”
Suspicions over what motivated the shooting only got stronger after a racist robocall went out to some Clayton County households in the days after Payne was charged with murder.
“Negroes aren’t American,” the call, which appeared to be paid for by the hate group Road To Power, says in part. “They aren’t really fully human. It’s time to send them all to Africa. She’s been cast as the criminal when in fact it was the negro.”
The call continued, “Hannah Payne did nothing wrong. Tell the District Attorney of Clayton County, Georgia, free Hannah Payne.”
Payne’s lawyer said his client was simply trying to do the right thing.
“It just seems like an unfortunate situation of a good Samaritan trying to stop a person on a hit-and-run,” Matt Tucker said the day after the shooting earlier this month. He also said that she went to Herring’s car with her gun “to keep him from leaving again.”
A witness described Payne as the aggressor who immediately claimed after Herring was shot that he was the one who pulled the trigger.