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Woman sentenced to life with parole for killing man during citizen’s arrest

Hannah Payne, 24, was found guilty of killing 62-year-old Kenneth Herring in 2019 after he left the scene of a car crash

Andrea Cavallier
Friday 15 December 2023 17:51 GMT
Victim’s siblings speak before Hannah Payne is sentenced for Kenneth Herring’s murder
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A Georgia woman who was found guilty of killing a stranger during an attempted citizen’s arrest that went fatally wrong was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole, a Clayton County judge ruled on Friday morning.

Hannah Payne, 24, who was handcuffed and wearing her green prison uniform, was emotional during the sentencing in Clayton County on Friday as a family friend and co-worker took the stand to speak on her behalf.

They asked for leniency from the judge while the victim’s family requested a life sentence for Payne without the possibility of parole.

Payne was convicted earlier this week of felony murder, malice murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and three charges of weapons possession during a crime.

Judge Jewell Scott bestowed some mercy on Payne, handing down a sentence of life with the possibility of parole for the murder of 62-year-old Kenneth Herring, whom she chased down and shot after he ran a red light in May 2019 and caused a minor car crash.

She was also sentenced to eight consecutive years for false imprisonment and five consecutive years for possession of a firearm.

Hannah Payne, 24, was sentenced to life in prison with parole for the killing of 62-year-old Kenneth Herring

The Georgia woman claimed she never intended to shoot Herring, but had only wanted to take down his license plate number for the 911 dispatcher after Herring left the scene of the crash.

Herring’s sister, Jacqueline Herring, spoke to the court in her victim impact statement.

“As I watched her leaving and she was crying as she was going through the doors, that’s the same way I felt when they closed that casket on him,” she said of the trial. “That door would never open again … I’ll never see my brother again. Only through pictures.”

She ended her statement by requesting a life sentence without parole.

“I can’t call him if I wanted to. I can’t visit him if I wanted to. I can go to the grave site, but he can’t respond,” she said, adding that she wanted the same thing for Payne.

“Where he got death without parole. I would like for her to have life without parole.”

Vickie Lynn Herring, Kenneth Herring’s youngest sister, teared up on the stand as she gave her statement to the court.

“I no longer have a big brother,” she said. “His grandchildren won’t know him. He has two children who don’t have a father anymore. There were six of us. Now there’s the five of us that are left.”

Payne, nor her parents, spoke at Friday’s hearing, but a family friend and co-worker spoke on her behalf. Reana Novotny, a family friend, asked for the judge to see Payne’s heart.

“For Mr. Herring’s family, I would like for you to know that her heart has broken a million times. And in spite of anything that anyone has alleged or told you, please know that from the depths of her heart and soul, she would have never wanted harm to come to your loved one,” Ms Novotny said.

Hannah Payne sobbed in court when she was found guilty of murder

“Show mercy and understanding of who the real Hannah Payne is when determining her sentence,” she added. “We ask the court to look into her heart and realize she is a human worth saving.”

On 7 May 2019, the lives of two families were changed forever.

Prosecutors accused Payne of playing the part of a cop when she followed Herring after he left the scene of a crash she was not involved in. Witnesses said Payne cut him off and shot him.

“Kenneth Herring, who was unarmed and minding his own business, was chased down, detained, shot, and murdered,” lead prosecutor Nigel Hunter said in his closing arguments. “You don’t get the death penalty for committing a traffic offence.”

The defence claimed Payne acted in self-defence because when she confronted Herring, she claimed he started attacking her.

Earlier this week, Payne took the stand in her defence and while she agreed with jurors that she had drawn her gun, she claimed she never intended to fire and instead it was Herring who shot himself in a struggle for the weapon.

The 2019 incident in Clayton County began with a minor car crash with a semi-truck that was reportedly caused by Herring running a red light in his Dodge Dakota pickup truck. Payne was not involved in the crash but said she witnessed it and pulled over to call 911.

Payne testified that a corrections officer who also witnessed the crash told her the man was "Okay, but... definitely inebriated” as they waited at the scene.

This led Payne and the semi-truck driver to ask at the same time, “Do you mean he’s drunk?”

Hannah Payne sobs as verdict is read

Meanwhile, the state corrections officer testified that Herring was displaying symptoms of a diabetic shock. He said the man’s eyes were red-orange, he appeared disoriented, and he had circled his truck several times before he drove off.

Herring waited at the scene for about 15 to 20 minutes before he left, according to Law & Crime.

Payne realised no one at the scene had Herring’s information or license plate number so despite being told a total of four times by a 911 dispatcher not to do so, she sped off after Herring in her Jeep.

“OK, so you couldn’t get a tag number?” a 911 dispatcher asked Payne, according to a recording of the 911 call played in court.

“No, but I’m catching up to him right now,” she responded.

“OK, ma’am we actually do not want you to chase him, we just want you to be safe,” the dispatcher added.

“He is drunk. I’m not,” Payne told the dispatcher. “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 then testified that she “was under the impression, with having 911 on the phone, that she would be a messenger.”

The fatal confrontation happened moments later when Payne caught up with Herring, who was stopped in a turning lane at an intersection, and demanded he return to the scene of the crash.

“We’re loud, it’s near an interstate, it’s a busy road and I can’t hear what he’s saying to me. But as I’m getting closer to him, I hear him ask me who the f*** am I,” Payne told the court.

She claimed that at one point Herring knocked her phone out of her hand and then reached out of the window and grabbed her, ripping her shirt. He then “mashed the gas,” briefly dragging her with his car.

Payne said that’s when she told Herring that she had a gun, which she then showed to him.

“I pulled it out and immediately started trying to just continue to push against the door with it — like push it away from him,” she said. “He grabbed my hand with the gun in it.”

“As he’s pulling it is when it — the trigger went off,” she continued. “After it went off, my entire body kind of fell backwards.”

Witnesses who testified at Payne’s trial, however, told a different story.

They claimed that Payne chased Herring down, cut him off with her car, then jumped out and “very aggressively” ran up to his car, cursed at him, and immediately started punching the “confused” man through his window.

She then took out her gun, they claimed, threatened to shoot him twice, and “immediately” shot him dead.

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