The fate of the only officer charged in the raid that killed Breonna Taylor was in the hands of a jury after closing arguments by a prosecutor and defence lawyer.
Brett Hankison was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment, punishable by one to five years in prison, for firing shots that ripped into the home of Ms Taylor’s next-door neighbours.
Hankison’s lawyers never contested the ballistics evidence. The former narcotics detective, fired by Louisville Police for shooting blindly during the raid, admitted to shooting through Ms Taylor’s patio door and bedroom window, but said he did so to save his fellow officers. Asked if he did anything wrong that night, he said “absolutely not.”
Hankison, 45, testified that he saw a muzzle flash from Ms Taylor’s darkened hallway after police burst through the door and thought officers were under heavy fire, so he quickly wheeled around a corner and sprayed bullets through the door and window, hoping to end the threat.
Prosecutor Barbara Maines Whaley disputed whether Hankison could see into Ms Taylor’s front door when the first shot was fired.
“He was never in the doorway,” Ms Whaley told jurors in her closing argument. “His wanton conduct could have multiplied one tragic death, Breonna Taylor. His wanton conduct could have multiplied her death by three, easily.”
Ms Whaley sought to raise doubts about what Hankison could have seen through a side glass door and window that were covered with blinds. She also reminded the jury that none of the other officers who testified recalled him being in the doorway before the gunfire began. All the shells from his weapon were found in the car park among a row of cars.
Defence lawyer Stewart Mathews said Hankison thought he was doing the right thing in what he thought was a gun battle, and that he’s not a criminal who belongs in prison.
“He did what he thought he had to do in that instant. This all happened in such a short span,” Mr Mathews said.
Hankison’s defence centred on his perception that his fellow officers were taking hostile gunfire during the chaotic moments that followed the first shot. A 20-year veteran police dog handler assigned to handle a drug-sniffing dog during the raid, he said he was positioned behind the officer with the battering ram, and could see the shadowy silhouette of a person “in a shooting stance” with what looked like an AR-15 rifle as Ms Taylor’s door swung open.
No long gun was found — only the handgun of Ms Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker, who told Louisville Police investigators he thought intruders were breaking in. Investigators determined Mr Walker fired the shot that passed through the leg of Sgt John Mattingly, who along with officer Myles Cosgrove, returned fire. A total of 32 rounds were fired by police. Mr Walker wasn’t hit.
The killing of Ms Taylor loomed over the trial, though prosecutors insisted in opening statements that this case wasn’t about her death or the police decisions that led to the March 13 2020 raid. Jurors were shown a single image of her body, barely discernible at the end of the hallway.
Ms Taylor, a 26-year-old medic who had been settling down for bed when officers broke through her door, was shot multiple times and died at the scene.
Kentucky Attorney General David Cameron’s prosecutors asked a grand jury to indict Hankison on charges of endangering Taylor’s neighbours but declined to seek charges against any officers involved in Taylor’s death. Protesters who had walked the streets for months were outraged.
Ms Taylor’s name, along with George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery — black men who died in encounters with police and white pursuers — became rallying cries during racial justice protests seen around the world in 2020.
The jury of 10 men and five women was selected after several days of questioning from a pool expanded to about 250 people. Before deliberations, the jury was reduced to eight men and four women. The judge declined to release details about their race or ethnicity.