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Murder Trial Delayed as Judge Doubts Absent Defense Lawyer Actually a Had a Stroke, Finds Him in Contempt and Threatens to File Grievance with the Bar


A Georgia murder trial was delayed Monday under bizarre circumstances as the judge in the case did not believe that absent defense counsel actually had a stroke.

Hannah Payne, 24, was supposed to stand trial in Clayton County for allegedly murdering a man involved in a hit-and-run in 2019, but attorney Matthew Tucker did not show up to court — and Judge Shana Rooks Malone was clearly not pleased with the lack of notice.

“There, however, is no indication that he had a stroke,” the judge remarked from the bench, before offering some free advice the defendant. “I cannot go forward with the trial today because Ms. Payne is not represented, but what I will tell you Ms. Payne is you need to seriously seek new counsel.”

The judge found the attorney in contempt and said the state bar would be hearing about his “behavior.”

“He failed to file the rules of the court in notifying the court,” the judge said. “I am also going to file a grievance with the State Bar of Georgia because of his behavior.”

Judge Malone also said that this wasn’t the first time she’s seen something like this out of Tucker. She reminded Payne that she has a right to an attorney who will put on a zealous defense.

“This is not the first time I’ve had an issue with him failing to come and come on time,” the judge said. “He’s doing you a disservice because you’ve been here. You have a right to counsel who is going to be diligently representing and advocating on you zealously, and he has not been doing that.”

Whenever Hannah Payne does stand trial, she’ll have to contend with allegations that she murdered Kenneth Herring, 62, after he allegedly drove through a red light, collided with a semi-truck, and drove off after briefly stopping. Payne’s defense strategy up to this point, under Tucker’s leadership, has been to claim self-defense while attempt to perform a citizen’s arrest.

“It just seems like it’s an unfortunate situation of a Good Samaritan trying to stop a person on a hit-and-run,” Tucker has said. “She was in fear of her life. She felt that she needed to pull that gun to defend herself.”

On that fateful May 7, 2019, Payne followed Herring and blocked him in at an intersection before ordering him out of his car, believing he was drunk. She called 911.

“He is drunk. I’m not. I’m sorry, but I’m here to tell you I’m not not going to follow him because he is going to cause an accident,” Payne could be heard saying.

“Get out of the car! I said, get out of the car!” she demanded, before there was a struggle over her gun. “He just pulled the trigger on the gun in my hand!”

The dispatcher had asked her not to chase after Herring.

A witness — a state corrections officer with medic training — saw the crash, and spoke to Herring, Detective Keon Hayward has reportedly testified. Based on his training, this witness suggested that Herring was having a medical emergency – a diabetic shock or something of that nature. For example, Herring was disoriented, displayed red-orange eyes, and had walked around a truck several times.

Prosecutors have said all along that Payne was the aggressor.

“She’s using deadly force; she wasn’t faced with deadly force,” District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson said in 2019. “You cannot claim self-defense and use deadly force unless you’re not the initial aggressor — she is.”

Georgia repealed its citizen’s arrest law last year after three men murdered Ahmaud Arbery.

Alberto Luperon contributed to this report.

[Image via Law&Crime Network]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.