There’s been a delay to the start of a Georgia murder trial for a white woman who shot and killed an older Black driver in an apparent fit of road rage in May. That’s the bad news.
But when Hannah Payne’s trial does finally begin early next year, Black women will figure prominently into deciding her fate. That may also be bad news for Payne, who will have to defend accusations of racism for killing Kenneth Herring, a 62-year-old who may have been suffering from a medical emergency when he allegedly clipped her car, prompting her to chase him on a highway, box him in with her car and shoot him to death in Clayton County back in May.
According to the Clayton News Daily, prosecutors will try Payne’s case before Clayton County Superior Court Judge Shana Rooks Malone. The trial is being delayed because Georgia Bureau of Investigation Medical Examiner Dr. Stacy Desamours, another Black woman who the Clayton News Daily reported is “a material state’s witness in the case” is on medical leave”
The scenario was vaguely reminiscent of the murder trial for Amber Guyger, the since-fired and convicted white Dallas police officer who shot and killed Botham Jean, who is Black, in his own home last year. In that case, Judge Tammy Kemp, also a Black woman, presided over the trial in what would turn out to be a controversial manner.
Things may be different with Rooks Malone, though. The Spelman College graduate was elected to what she called her “dream job” in 2016 and own a law firm that specializes in personal injury. Rooks Malone previously told the Clayton News Daily that her faith informs her judgments.
“This is who I am,” she said around the time of her swearing-in. “I am a servant of God. And when I take that bench that’s what I will be, a servant of God.”
Meanwhile, Payne has enjoyed a bit of privilege for a person facing life in prison after being charged with felony murder, malice murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and possession of a firearm during a felony. The 22-year-old in September was implausibly granted bond for a second time after being brought up on new charges, which at the time had revoked her existing bond following the shooting in May.
That came a few months after she sobbed audibly as her 911 call was played in court. Although the call is not public, a Clayton County police detective testified that Payne could be heard saying to Herring on the call, “Get out of the car, get out of the car, get out of the fucking car! I’m going to shoot you!” After Payne shot Herring, she reportedly told the 911 operator, “He just shot himself with my gun.”
On the afternoon of May 7, Payne allegedly witnessed a minor hit and run accident in Georgia. Herring supposedly hit a Payne’s vehicle and drove 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 and engage in a struggle with him.
During a preliminary court hearing, it was reported that Herring was having a medical emergency, probably diabetic shock, after he left the scene of the hit and run. Herring’s wife echoed that same sentiment at the time. “I know he was having a diabetic episode because he don’t just run off the scene,” Christine Herring said outside of the courtroom. “I knew he was trying to get to the hospital.”
A number of emails sent to NewsOne from people who said they were Payne’s friends insisted the young driver was not racist despite the optics surrounding the case suggesting otherwise. White supremacists paid for robocalls to Clayton County residents referring to Herring as a “negro” and urged anyone who was listening to “Tell the District Attorney of Clayton County, Georgia, free Hannah Payne.”
While the situation was reminiscent of last year’s spate of white women trying to police Black people, it also bore similarities to the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012. In that instance, neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman shot and killed the innocent and unarmed Black teen. That was even after 911 operators told Zimmerman, an adult, not to approach the teen.
Payne’s trial date was set for Feb. 11, 2020, at 9 a.m. in Room 402 in Clayton County Superior Court.