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Judge rules Breonna Taylor grand juror can speak publicly about proceedings

A Kentucky judge ruled Tuesday that a grand juror may speak publicly about the case presented by the state attorney general against police officers who serve...

Posted: Oct 20, 2020 12:40 PM
Updated: Oct 20, 2020 12:57 PM

A Kentucky judge ruled Tuesday that a grand juror may speak publicly about the case presented by the state attorney general against police officers who served a search warrant at Breonna Taylor's home the night she was killed.

Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Annie O'Connell wrote in her opinion that "justice requires disclosure of the grand jury proceedings in this case."

"There exist additional interests to consider in making this decision: the interest of the citizens of the Commonwealth of Kentucky to be assured that its publicly elected officials are being honest in their representations; the interest of grand jurors, whose service is compelled, to be certain their work is not mischaracterized by the very prosecutors on whom they relied to advise them; and, the interest of all citizens to have confidence in the integrity of the justice system," O'Connell wrote.

The unusual decision -- grand juries are intended to be secret, with some exceptions -- could shed further light on a case that has led to protests across the country and exemplified the ways that the "war on drugs" disproportionately hurts Black Americans.

The anonymous grand juror has suggested that Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron may have misrepresented to the public the case presented to the panel, according the juror's attorney.

Cameron's office had requested a stay of any court order allowing the juror to speak out publicly until after a potential state appeal.

O'Connell said that while grand jury proceedings are normally secret "traditional justifications for secrecy in this matter are no longer relevant" and that "the ends of justice require disclosure."

"There is little concern that releasing the remaining undisclosed grand jury proceedings would create that effect," O'Connell wrote.

"Rather, it is more likely that the already highly public nature of this matter (generated in part by the Attorney General's own press releases, interviews and press conferences), and not the release of grand jury proceedings, would have that consequence."

Cameron's office argued that allowing the grand juror to speak may compromise the right to a fair trial of the one officer who was charged in connection with the incident, Brett Hankison.

But O'Connell said Hankison did not join the argument or raise the issue himself, so she ruled that she cannot find that the concern is "founded in reality."

Hankison was charged with three counts of felony wanton endangerment but none of the officers involved in the raid were directly charged with Taylor's death. Hankison has pleaded not guilty to those charges. No other officers were charged.

In court filings, an attorney for the grand juror has said Cameron has made several public statements on the proceedings but is preventing grand jurors from doing the same and called Cameron's statements on the process "misleading."

Cameron said earlier this month that he would appeal if O'Connell allows the juror to speak out.

The 26-year-old Taylor was fatally shot by Louisville Metro Police Department officers who broke down her apartment door during a botched drug raid on March 13.

The anonymous juror sought in court the release of information and documents reviewed by the grand jury as well as a "binding declaration" outlining the rights of grand jurors' public disclosures about the case. The attorney for the juror says what was presented to panel is not being publicly disclosed.

Cameron's request for a stay would have stopped the juror from speaking out while the state appeals the case or seeks additional relief, according to the filing.

Cameron's argued in a court filing that a failure to pause proceedings before the state could appeal "would immediately result in irreparable harm."

"Grand jury secrecy has existed for centuries. Research has not revealed any Kentucky case permitting a grand juror to violate his or her oath, and the most analogous case from a sister state denied a similar request. There is no doubt that the question presented is substantial and is surely deserving of appellate review," the document continues in part.

Kevin Glogower, the grand juror's attorney, argued that the juror specifically "wants to talk about their service on this grand jury" and is "not trying to be part of a global discussion in race relations."

Glogower said Cameron opened the door to release grand jury material when he discussed grand jury proceedings during a press conference in September. Glogower said the comments "completely undid secrecy" surrounding the proceedings.

He called on O'Connell to release further grand jury material and the juror from secrecy.

In response, attorney Victor Maddox argued on behalf of the Commonwealth of Kentucky that the secrecy surrounding grand juries is "fundamental" to the criminal justice system.

Maddox argued that a decision to release further material, as well as to release this juror from secrecy, would be "breaking with centuries of precedent" on both the state and national level. He also said the release of such information could challenge Hankison's right to a fair trial.

Cameron led the investigation into the police killing and presented evidence in the case to a Jefferson County grand jury over two-and-a-half days.

After a court ordered Cameron to do so, the Attorney General released roughly 15 hours of audio recorded while jurors reviewed evidence like 911 calls and body camera videos and asked questions.

However, the recordings do not include juror deliberations or prosecutors' recommendations and statements, Cameron said.

Glogower previously told CNN that the released recordings are missing some key information.

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