Top 3 Clayton crime stories of 2019

Hannah Payne faces two counts of felony murder, one count each of of malice murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment, and three counts of weapons possession during the commission of a crime in the May 7 shooting death of Kenneth Herring. She remains free on bond.

JONESBORO — Hannah Payne, the woman who allegedly followed a man having a diabetic crisis, then shot him in a confrontation over a fender-bender with another vehicle, will not face a jury before February 2020.

Acting District Attorney John Fowler requested a continuance because Georgia Bureau of Investigation Medical Examiner Dr. Stacy Desamours, a material state’s witness in the case, is on medical leave. The case is on the jury trial calendar for Feb. 11, 2020 at 9 a.m. in Room 402 before Clayton County Superior Court Judge Shana Rooks Malone.

Payne is charged with two counts of felony murder, one count each of of malice murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment, and three counts of weapons possession during the commission of a crime in the May 7 shooting death of Kenneth Herring, 62.

Herring died of a gunshot wound to the chest after Payne allegedly followed Herring for a mile in traffic despite a 911 operator’s directions not to do so, then confronted him with a pistol in her hand after Herring struck another vehicle.

Payne’s attorney, Matt Tucker, has said she was acting in self-defense. Fowler said Herring may have been trying to drive himself to the hospital during what first responders said may have been a diabetic emergency.

Clayton County Police Detective Keon Hayward testified that a 911 operator had repeatedly told Payne not to follow Herring and that an EMS worker believed Payne was having a diabetic crisis. After the shooting, he said, Payne told the 911 operator that Herring had “shot himself with (her) gun.”

Although police say Payne had a Georgia Weapons Carry License, which allows the holder to carry concealed weapons, she likely had it for less than a year due to her age. Georgia residents must be 21 to hold a WCL; those who are at least 18 and in the military also can hold a WCL.

Payne’s family has said she carried a gun for protection. “Just everyday protections, you know, the society that we live in today. You hear about it every day on the news,” said Payne’s mother, Margaret. “Innocent people are getting shot, innocent people are getting broken into.”

Georgia law, which includes a “stand your ground” provision inside one’s own home, allows the use of force in defense of one’s self or of another. However, the law does not allow someone to provoke someone else “as an excuse to inflict bodily harm.” It also does not allow someone who starts a fight to use force, “unless he withdraws from the encounter and effectively communicates to such other person his intent to do so and the other, notwithstanding, continues or threatens to continue the use of unlawful force.”

Christine Herring, Kenneth Herring’s widow, has told the News Payne “was trying to act like the police.” She and several other members of the Herring family filed letters with the court, asking that Payne be denied bond.

Kenneth Herring’s sister, Jacquelyn, asked the judge to consider “the nature and circumstances of these charges, especially the offenses involving violence. Please also examine the weight of the evidence against her. I also believe that there is a likelihood that she will behave improperly given the suspicions over what motivated her actions in which she is accused.”

During the bond hearing, Tucker described Payne as a hard-working, all-American girl who had been trying to put her life back together since the shooting: “A lifelong resident of Georgia, lived in Fayette County, went to Fayette County High School,” he told the court. “All four years was in the marching band; never has gotten a ticket; never has gotten arrested; never has had any problems with the law enforcement until recently.”

Payne was granted bond twice: on Sept. 27 and then again on Oct. 1 when two additional charges raised her total bond to $320,000. Both times, Judge Malone imposed special conditions: that Payne wear an ankle monitor and observe a 9 p.m. curfew. She remains free as of press time.

Tucker said his client was “not a menace to society as people want to portray her. She’s a young individual that got on the phone with 911 and thought she was helping out,” adding, “At her age, she learned a very valuable lesson.”

Fowler said he expects there will be a trial.

“It’s just one of those cases where the defendant thinks that she did absolutely nothing wrong.”

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