Clayton County, Ga. – Jury selection in a high-profile murder case had to be postponed after the defendant told his lawyer he had suffered a concussion. The judge seemed to ask if that was true.
Hannah Payne is accused of shooting and killing Kenneth Herring in May 2019. Herring was stopped and shot, police said.
Channel 2’s Tom Jones was in the courtroom where jury selection was due to begin on Monday morning. Clayton County Superior Court Judge Shana Roux Malone noted that Payne’s attorney was not present in the courtroom.
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Malone asked Payne where her attorney, Matt Tucker, was. Payne responded that Tucker suffered a stroke on Saturday. Malone said his office had not heard from Tucker and that they had called area hospitals but found no record of him being a patient.
“I mean no disrespect to Mr. Tucker, but he knows what he has to do, so we all knew today. Because you knew Saturday,” she said.
The judge said this is not the first time he has had problems with his absence. She said Tucker was found in contempt of court and will file a complaint with the state bar.
Malone also advised Payne to get a new lawyer. The trial has been suspended until that happens.
Jones contacted Tucker for comment on this story. On Monday afternoon, he told Jones he had suffered a stroke and was in the hospital. Jones said his voice cracked when he spoke to him on the phone.
Tucker said he emailed the judge to inform him of his situation. He said he still plans to represent Paine.
Police said Payne shot and killed Herring in May 2019 at the intersection of Forest Parkway and Riverdale Road after he was seen walking away from a minor accident.
Prosecutors said Herring may have had a medical episode at the time of the crash.
During a previous court appearance, prosecutors said Payne ignored instructions from 911 dispatchers, who initially told them to stay at the scene of the hit-and-run and not engage the other driver.
“In the background, you can hear (Payne saying), ‘Get out of the car. Get out of the car,’ Clayton Police Detective Keon Hayward told the court.
After the shooting, a witness recorded a video showing Payne changing her clothes before police arrived.
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Tucker argued that his client was provoked into further action when Herring’s truck hit her Jeep, but police said the two vehicles did not collide at any point during the incident. Tucker also said his client was claiming self-defense in the shooting, saying Herring had groped him and ripped off his shirt.
“It sounds like an unfortunate situation where a good Samaritan tries to stop someone in a hit-and-run,” he previously said.
Payne was initially charged with aggravated murder, but was later indicted by a grand jury on charges of first degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated assault and false imprisonment.
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