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Breonna Taylor grand juror says homicide charges were not presented

A memorial to Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky. on Oct. 2, 2020.
A memorial to Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky. on Oct. 2, 2020.XAVIER BURRELL/NYT

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A Kentucky judge on Tuesday granted grand jurors in the Breonna Taylor case permission to speak publicly, a rare move that immediately led one juror to assert that prosecutors had not given the panel the opportunity to bring homicide charges in the case.

Taylor, 26, was killed in her apartment in March during a botched raid by Louisville police officers. After details of her death were made public, calls for justice helped propel protests over racism and police violence against Black people in the United States.

One of the primary demands of protesters, to charge the officers who fired the shots that killed Taylor, was left unfulfilled when the grand jury’s only charges were three counts of wanton endangerment against a former detective, Brett Hankison, who shot into a neighboring apartment but did not fire any of the rounds that struck Taylor.

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Grand jurors are bound by secrecy rules that almost always keep their experiences unknown to the public, so the judge’s decision on Tuesday allowed them to shed rare light on the process. In a statement, an anonymous juror said the group “didn’t agree that certain actions were justified, nor did it decide the indictment should be the only charges in the Breonna Taylor case.”

“The grand jury did not have homicide offenses explained to them,” the anonymous juror said. “The grand jury never heard about those laws. Self-defense or justification was never explained either. Questions were asked about additional charges and the grand jury was told there would be none because the prosecutors didn’t feel they could make them stick.”

The juror’s statement reflects how prosecutors hold enormous sway over grand juries that are tasked with deciding whether to bring felony charges against the accused. While grand juries have the ability to call witnesses and pursue charges other than what the prosecutor recommends, jurors may not understand the scope of their power. And prosecutors have no obligation to present charges other than the ones they choose to recommend.

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One of the officers who shot Taylor also spoke up, telling ABC News and The Louisville Courier Journal that he was frustrated with what he called disinformation involving the case, according to interview excerpts that the organizations released on Tuesday night.

“This is not relatable to a George Floyd. This is nothing like it. It’s not an Ahmaud Arbery. It’s nothing like it,” said the officer, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly, referring to other Black people who were killed this year.

“It’s not a race thing,” he added, “like people want to try to make it to be.”

Mattingly said the officers were doing their job when they returned fire: “This is not us going hunting somebody down, this is not kneeling on a neck.”

During the raid, Mattingly was shot in the leg by Taylor’s boyfriend, who has said he thought the officers were intruders. Although officers said they announced themselves before knocking down her door, many neighbors said they did not hear any such warning.

The police fired a total of 32 rounds in response, at least six of which struck Taylor.

When Attorney General Daniel Cameron of Kentucky, who led the prosecution, announced last month that no officers would be charged for Taylor’s death, he said the grand jury “was given all of the evidence, presented all of the information, and ultimately made the determination” to not bring charges.

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The anonymous grand juror, in an initial legal motion seeking permission to speak publicly, accused Cameron of using the grand jury “as a shield to deflect accountability and responsibility” and of planting “more seeds of doubt in the process.”

In response to a court order, Cameron released 15 hours of audio recordings from the grand jury proceedings, but the recordings did not include the instructions that prosecutors gave to the 12 jurors.

And though Cameron had initially said he had “no concerns” with grand jurors speaking about the prosecutor’s presentation, he later filed objections to them doing so.

Cameron argued that allowing a grand juror to speak could “destroy the principle of secrecy that serves as the foundation of the grand jury system.” He also said it could compromise Hankison’s right to a fair trial for the endangerment charges he faces.

Both of those arguments were rejected by the court.

In her opinion, Judge Annie O’Connell of Jefferson County Circuit Court said Cameron’s office could provide no evidence that the juror would endanger Hankison’s right to a fair trial. She wrote that Cameron’s other objection, that the juror would destroy the principle of secrecy, “reads as theatrical Sturm und Drang.”

In a statement, Cameron said that he disagreed with O’Connell’s opinion, but that his office would not appeal it. Cameron said that he remained confident in the prosecutor’s presentation, and asserted that his office did “report the facts of the shooting death of Ms. Breonna Taylor.”

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“As special prosecutor, it was my decision to ask for an indictment on charges that could be proven under Kentucky law,” Cameron said. “Indictments obtained in the absence of sufficient proof under the law do not stand up and are not fundamentally fair to anyone.”

A second anonymous grand juror said in a statement that they were “pleased with the result” of the judge’s opinion, and would be discussing possible next steps with a lawyer.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.