Payne faces two counts of felony murder; one count each of malice murder, aggravated assault, and false imprisonment; and three counts of weapons possession during commission of a crime. If convicted, she could be sentenced to life in prison.

Last step before jury trial

Nearly three years after Hannah Payne was charged in the murder of Kenneth Herring after she attempted a citizen’s arrest, the parties are scheduled to appear in court on Monday, April 18 for the 9 a.m. calendar call in Room 406 before Superior Court Judge Shana Rooks Malone:

A calendar call is the final step before a jury trial. During a calendar call, the defense could ask to suppress evidence, to dismiss the case, or enter a negotiated plea. The judge could send the case to a jury or decide whether another hearing is required first.

At the December hearing, defense attorney Matt Tucker said he planned to file an immunity motion, which gives Payne the chance to argue she fired in self-defense.

Payne faces two counts of felony murder; one count each of malice murder, aggravated assault, and false imprisonment; and three counts of weapons possession during commission of a crime. If convicted, she could be sentenced to life in prison.

Last year, the Georgia Assembly passed and Gov. Brian Kemp signed HB 479, which repealed the state’s Reconstruction-era citizen’s arrest law in the wake of Ahmaud Arbery’s and Kenneth Herring’s fatal shootings. The new law specifically forbids the use of deadly force during citizen’s arrests, “[e]xcept in circumstances involving use of force in defense of self or others, involving use of force in defense of a habitation, or involving use of force to prevent the  commission of a forcible felony.”

Attorney Matt Tucker (11Alive)

The Clayton Crescent asked Tucker for clarification on whether Georgia’s “stand your ground” law applies in the Payne. The defense of self or others is an “absolute defense” under Georgia law. If Payne can show she acted in self-defense, she could avoid the recommended life sentence.

“It’s not really self-defense,” Tucker said. “It’s a situation where she got out of the car, and had her phone saying ‘I’ve got police on the line.’ He tried to ram her. And the 911 tapes I finally was given, you hear the engine rev up, hit her car, and her scream. And that’s when she pulled a gun and he grabbed her and said, ‘I’ve got something for you, bitch,’ and tried to pull her in the car. So in that tussling there is when the gun goes off, and by the angle of the shot into him, it appears that the gun was pointing at him, not from her angle, but coming back at her. So he was trying to twist that thing around to shoot her, whatever, I don’t know. I can’t really see that part, but I can only go from the trajectory of the bullet of entry of the body.”

Tucker said the public has only heard part of the 911 recordings so far.

“The Department of Corrections guy tells her to go follow him and get the tag, the 911 people tell her to go get the tag, and she’s caught up in it,” he said. “Then they say, ‘you both need to stop and come back here,’ she pulls in front of him, and that’s where the nightmare begins.”

Tucker also said Herring had “a big old knife in the front seat, he’s got some drugs in there, and he’s grabbing her and, you know, pulling her in, and that’s kind of what I wanted the state to see. ‘Cause we can’t use it [the video] in the real trial, but I flew up and down the still shots of it, and you can clearly see where his hand is on the gun, he’s got her shirt almost pulled off, and she’s on her tippy-toes just trying to get out of the car.”

Race, justice, and COVID-19

The NAACP Clayton County Branch says the case is taking too long to go to trial. President C. Synamon Baldwin has spearheaded a campaign to increase public awareness of the Payne case. On March 8, Baldwin and Herring’s brother, Keith, filed a complaint with the Georgia NAACP about the case’s slow pace.

NAACP Clayton County Branch President C. Synamon Baldwin (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

In that complaint, Keith Herring wrote, “My brother Kenneth Herring was murdered in cold blood by Hannah Payne. This murderer is out on bond and has not been brought to justice. Our family needs the help of the NAACP.”

Handwritten appeal for help to Georgia NAACP from Keith Herring, the younger brother of Kenneth Herring.

On April 2, the NAACP Clayton Branch held an online discussion about delays in the case:

Statewide judicial orders during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak slowed down the entire court system in Georgia, with Clayton County Superior Court judges having to work out when their cases can use the available courthouse pod reserved for hearings via Zoom.

“We understand COVID pandemics and the backlog in the judicial system, but this case happened in May of 2019,” attorney Gerald Griggs told WAOK’s Rashad Richey last month. “And here we are, three and a half years later, and there has not been any justice. So they’re calling on citizens of Clayton County to join with the family in demanding this case make it to trial, and ultimately the facts come out and justice be served.”

Initially, the case drew national attention because it involved a white woman shooting a Black man. Payne was granted bond twice. Critics say that, had a Black man shot a white woman, bond would have been far higher or no bond would have been granted at all.

Social media lit up, excoriating Payne as a racist “Karen” and a “female George Zimmerman” who assumed she had the right to pull over a Black man at gunpoint while he was having a medical emergency:

After Payne’s first bond was granted on May 31, 2019, Payne’s family and friends denied any racial motivations on her part:

YouTube video

Herring’s widow, Christine, and emergency responders say Herring was suffering from a diabetic emergency and may have been trying to drive himself to Southern Regional Medical Center when he got into a fender-bender with a truck:

According to courtroom testimony, Herring got out, then got back into his pickup and drove off. Police say Payne witnessed the accident and called 911, but kept following Herring even after the dispatcher told her not to. Payne allegedly then used her Jeep to cut off Herring at an intersection, then approached his window, yelling “Get out of the f___ing car!” At some point, Payne allegedly pulled a pistol on Herring, a struggle ensued, and Herring was fatally shot in the abdomen. Prosecutors say Payne told the 911 dispatcher, “He shot himself with my gun!”

YouTube video

On November 20, 2019, the district attorney’s office requested the case be postponed until because Georgia Bureau of Investigation Medical Examiner Dr. Stacey Desamours, who did Herring’s autopsy and is a state’s material witness, was on medical leave until February 3.

More than 25,000 people have signed a change.org petition “that Governor Kemp and the District Attorney of Clayton County, Tasha Mosley, fulfill their job of prosecuting this killer and getting her off of the streets.”

Multiple bond hearings

Critics are particularly upset by the fact that Payne has been granted bond on two different occasions. Payne’s attorney filed several motions to reconsider her bond, arguing that she has ties to the community and is not a flight risk, and that a gap in one of the 911 audio recordings did not include a key part of the defense’s evidence.

  • On May 31, 2019, Clayton County Magistrate Court Judge William West, who is white, granted Payne $100,000 bond on one count of malice murder.
  • Payne’s case was sent to Clayton County Superior Court, where Judge Shana Rooks Malone, who is Black, is hearing the case.
  • On June 20, a grand jury added seven charges to the case, and Malone issued a warrant for Payne’s arrest, denying bond on all charges.
  • On June 21, 2019, Payne turned herself in to the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office.
  • At a July 12, 2019 bond hearing, prosecutors presented a recording of a 911 call that the defense said “had silence in the most important part of the recorded [sic].”
  • In a July 25, 2019 motion to reconsider bond, the defense pointed to a video of the incident, which it argued “will show the missing part of the 911 call, which we contend was taken out of the 911 purposely.”
  • In an August 1, 2019 emergency motion to reconsider bond, the defense argued “the video, as well as one of the 911 tapes, would clearly show Ms. Payne was attacked by the alleged victim.” Again, the defense claimed the audio had been manipulated on purpose.
  • On August 5, Judge Malone denied the request.
  • On September 3, the defense filed an emergency request to reconsider bond, saying the video and a witness statement would show Herring “attempted to run Ms. Payne down with his car before any gun was pulled” and that Herring “proceeded to attack Ms. Payne further by grabbing her shirt, cutting her chest area and ripping her shirt almost completely off.”
  • Judge Malone denied that request the same day.
  • On September 27, 2019, Malone granted Payne $220,000 bond on one count of malice murder ($100,000), one count of aggravated assault ($25,000), one count of false imprisonment ($50,000), and three counts of possession of a firearm during a felony ($15,000 each). Conditions included an ankle monitor and 9 p.m. curfew.
  • On September 30, 2019, Tucker wrote Malone, asking that the September 7 order be modified to include the original $100,000 bond on felony murder. Otherwise, he said, “the Clayton County Jail will not release Ms. Payne until they receive a new Order for Bond,” despite the fact that Payne “was bonded out by Anytime Bail Bond for this charge.”
  • On October 1, Judge Malone issued the modified bond order, which included the reinstated felony murder charge ($100,000), a second felony murder charge ($50,000), aggravated assault ($30,000), malice murder ($100,000), false imprisonment ($25,000), and three counts of possession of a firearm during a felony ($5,000 each), totaling $320,000.

Payne has been free ever since. Under conditions of the bond, Payne has to wear an ankle monitor and has a 9 p.m. nightly curfew. On July 16, 2020, her attorney, Matt Tucker, asked the court to modify the conditions of her bond, citing increased costs due to COVID-19 court delays. That motion was denied.

Tucker told The Clayton Crescent the ankle monitor costs $385 per month, and that if the charger for the GPS-enabled monitor wears out, people have to pay an additional deposit for a new charger.

Outside events

Since the case was filed, some unusual events have taken place outside the courtroom:

Former Clayton County Police Detective Keon Heyward in 2019. (11Alive)
  • Court records show the lead detective in the case, Keon Heyward, was dismissed from the Clayton County Police Department after testing positive for drugs. In a Brady notice to the defense, Chief Assistant District Attorney John Fowler wrote, “I was notified by Investigator John Gosart that Clayton County Police Detective Keon Hayward was terminated from the police department for testing positive for cocaine and marijuana. I confirmed this information on February 10, 2020 in a phone call with CCPD Lt. Thomas Reimers.”
  • Self-styled activist/bounty hunter/actor Sir Maejor, whose legal name is Tyree Conyers-Page, told reporters that he was Christine Herring’s spokesman after Payne’s first bond was granted. He then moved to his home state of Ohio. There, the FBI raided Page’s Toledo home. Page was arrested on federal charges that he used social media to raise funds for his Black Lives Matter splinter organization, then allegedly spent that money on fancy clothes, firearms, strippers, and the house in Ohio. A judge found Page to be in violation of his pretrial release condition to stay off Facebook but allowed him to remain out on bond. On March 25, his jury trial date was set for October 18. Page has an in-person pretrial conference set for tomorrow, April 13, at 11:30 a.m.
  • Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr named Assistant District Attorney John Fowler, who had been prosecuting the case, to the Georgia Department of Law Prosecution Division. The announcement was made July 17, 2020, with Fowler to start on July 20.

Herring’s brother: “People are so freaking gun-happy”

Late Tuesday, Herring’s brother, Keith, who lives in Moultrie, spoke with The Clayton Crescent. He said he’s been waiting five or six weeks to hear from the DA’s office after leaving a message there.

“My biggest concern, more than anything, is that there have been major trials that have taken place—even one that’s been here in the state—since this incident happened,” he said. “We’re talking about national, world, worldwide news, cases that have been dispensed of over in Brunswick, and we can’t even get this one to trial.”

His responsibilities in Moultrie have kept him from coming to Clayton County, for the most part. He’s waiting on a marker for his big brother’s grave.

Kenneth Herring’s grave near Moultrie. GA. (Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

And he’s waiting on justice.

“Some part of this is just cut and dry. He was shot trying to get to a hospital during a diabetic episode. He was shot and killed by someone who had absolutely nothing to do with it, or had no instance of humanity or anything, or just that fact that hey, this is a man, he is a human. But we live in a society that where, especially in this great state of Georgia, that people are so freaking gun-happy.”

He’s disgusted by Georgia’s new constitutional carry law.

There was a bill that was just signed today by our idiot governor that doesn’t require you to have a permit to carry a gun. There you go. That should decrease crime. I mean yeah, yeah, surely that should decrease crime, all of the crime that we have in Georgia. When we just start arming vigilantes, which is basically what this young lady was—a vigilante.”

When she shot Kenneth Herring, Hannah Payne had only recently gotten her Georgia Weapons Carry License.

“But once this thing gets to trial, I will be there,” Keith Herring vowed. “I will be there with bells on. And I just pray to God that they don’t allow her to walk out of there on some stupid technicality or some stupid Jim Crow law. I hope and pray that they don’t.”

Key coverage of the case to date

May 7, 2019Man shot dead in fight over wreck near airport” (Robin Kemp, Clayton News)
May 14, 2019Armed woman witnessed accident, followed victim, police say” (Robin Kemp, Clayton News)
June 3, 2019Payne free on bond in traffic shooting case” (Robin Kemp, Clayton News)
June 21, 2019Payne faces new charges in deadly shooting incident” (Robin Kemp, Clayton News)
December 10, 2019Hannah Payne murder trial on hold until February 2020” (Robin Kemp, Clayton News)
December 31, 2019Top 3 Clayton crime stories of 2019” (Robin Kemp, Clayton News)
February 27, 2020Hannah Payne murder trial delayed again; was set for March 9” (Robin Kemp, Clayton News)
September 4, 2020Clayton County NAACP Youth plan silent march Sat., Sept. 5” (Robin Kemp, The Clayton Crescent)
September 13, 2020Roderick Walker still in custody as activists plan rally” (Robin Kemp, The Clayton Crescent)
October 2, 2020Former police chief sues Forest Park, alleging racism” (Robin Kemp, The Clayton Crescent)
March 5, 2021Man shot on I-75 in Morrow in latest metro interstate gun-reated incident” (Robin Kemp, The Clayton Crescent)
March 31, 2021Day 40: Last call at the Gold Dome” (Robin Kemp, The Clayton Crescent)
October 14, 2021Missing persons and diabetes: who’s coming for you?” (Robin Kemp, The Clayton Crescent)
October 14, 2021BREAKING: Payne pretrial conference set” (Robin Kemp, The Clayton Crescent)
November 5, 2021New diabetes support standards” (Robin Kemp, The Clayton Crescent)
January 21, 2022Payne could face trial in January 2022” (Robin Kemp, The Clayton Crescent)

Robin Kemp is executive editor and CEO of The Clayton Crescent, which she founded in 2020. She has worked for Gambit, CNN, The Weather Channel, Clayton News, Henry Herald, and numerous freelance outlets....

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  1. Exceptional journalism from beginning to end. The community is grateful for the Clayton Crescent and the enlightenment that you bring to us. Your unbiased approach in this article speaks volumes about your Journalistic integrity and intellectual acumen. Thank you very much