By Erica Thomas, managing editor
BIRMINGHAM — A Jefferson County judge denied the suspect in the deadly March 28, 2019, Cracker Barrel shooting immunity under the state’s Stand Your Ground Law, after a hearing on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. Circuit Judge Clyde Jones said Bryan Hancock was not justified under that law to shoot and kill Randy Young. The case will now go to trial.
New information came out in the case Wednesday as several witnesses took the stand in front of family members of both Hancock and Young. Emotional responses from Young’s family members could be seen through their face masks as they heard about the final moments of their loved one. Supporters of Hancock showed up in support of their loved one as well. They have previously called Hancock “a big teddy bear” with a big heart.
During court proceedings, Hancock sat handcuffed. He stayed quiet and faced forward as each witness took the stand, including his friend who he was with on the night of March 28. Hancock’s hair has grown out past his shoulders since he was last photographed during booking into the Jefferson County Jail on Nov. 15, 2019. At that point, he had been released on bond but that bond was revoked and he has been in jail since.
Hancock is charged with capital murder in the case. Prosecutors said he shot Young in the head after an argument that began over how Hancock’s friend parked his truck in front of Cracker Barrel. Video surveillance shows the truck, driven by Hancock’s friend, was parked in such a manner that the victim’s car was blocked. Hancock was in the passenger seat of the truck when it was parked. The driver went inside the restaurant and Hancock stayed in the truck.
A couple that was leaving the restaurant as the argument between Hancock and Young began, took the stand one at a time, explaining what they saw. The husband told the court his wife was startled by what she saw and told him they needed to leave “because she was scared there was fixing to be a shooting.” The husband said the two were “barking” at each other and that Young seemed to be more aggressive than Hancock. However, he said Hancock seemed to be under the influence.
“I don’t think he knew what day of the week it was,” the man testified. “He was either drunk or high.”
The witness said Hancock seemed to have a blank stare and said it seemed like he didn’t know what was going on or where he was.
Although information about substance abuse had not been released previously by law enforcement, the defense said in court that Hancock overdosed while in jail that night and had to be taken to the hospital for treatment.
In a 911 call played during the hearing, Hancock first told the 911 dispatcher that he was at the Cracker Barrel in Gardendale. You can then hear someone in the background telling him he was in Trussville. Hancock told the dispatcher he shot a man in self-defense. He claimed he had been punched in the face by the victim as he was trying to leave.
The husband said he never saw a weapon on either party and didn’t think much of the argument until he saw law enforcement speeding in the direction of the restaurant after he and his wife left. He then got home and saw the news coverage of the incident and knew he had to call the police.
“Just seeing what happened and when the news media on Facebook was calling it a racial shooting, it bothered me because, at that point, I never heard any racial stuff,” the man testified. “And the news showed the truck wasn’t in the right spot. So, nobody knew what started the whole issue.”
The driver of the truck and Hancock’s friend also took the stand to testify in the hearing. He said he and Hancock were going to Cracker Barrel to pick up a friend who was going to spend the night. He said he went inside the restaurant to order food to go. On the way inside, he saw the victim’s stepdad and spoke with him. The stepdad asked if he could move his truck and the friend told him that he would. The friend then asked the stepdad for a cigarette. After the stepdad gave him a cigarette, he said he went inside to see his other friend and order food. After some time, the friend said the stepdad came back into the restaurant and once again asked him to move his truck. He said he walked outside with the man and saw Hancock and Young having an exchange.
“I just felt some tension in the air to be honest with you,” Hancock’s friend testified.
The friend told the court he could tell the victim was angry but he couldn’t remember anything Hancock said. When he got into the driver’s seat of the truck to move it, he said he didn’t see any weapons.
“I saw the man in the red shirt come up to the passenger side,” Hancock’s friend said. “I saw him strike Bryan in the face. About five seconds later, that’s when Bryan shot.”
After the shooting, Hancock’s friend got out of the truck and checked the victim’s pulse. Hancock called 911. The friend, who has known Hancock since middle school, said he has never seen his friend act violently or cause trouble.
During testimony, the court learned that Hancock’s friend told investigators the shooting was “unnecessary.” The friend said he does not remember what he said following the shooting but he did say if he said that, it was a poor choice of words due to him being in shock.
Prosecutors said he also told Hancock, “you just murdered that man,” following the shooting.
The prosecution pointed out that the victim was outside of the truck when the suspect fired a gun through an open window. The prosecution also pointed out that the victim was unarmed.
The family of Young became visibly upset when hearing the details of the case. One member of the family placed his hand on his heart, began to cry and used his face mask to wipe his tears from his eyes.
An investigator with the Trussville Police Department also testified that there is no evidence that Hancock was acting in self-defense.
After all witnesses were released, Judge Jones addressed the defense attorneys.
“All I’m concerned with is why a punch in the face equals death,” said Judge Jones.”…Does a person who is punched in the face have a right to kill a person that’s punching?”
Attorneys for Hancock argued that their client “had a reasonable belief that Mr. Young was prepared to use force” and that “he did use force.”
The defense said Hancock believed Young may have a weapon and that he believed “use of force was necessary to protect himself.” But Judge Jones denied the motion for immunity under Alabama’s Stand Your Ground law.
“Then why didn’t Mr. Hancock, who is obviously, by everyone’s account, larger than Mr. Young, why didn’t he just get out and fight him like a man?” Jones asked. “Why did he shoot him right here in the front of his head?”
Jones said after 40 years as a prosecutor, and after hearing evidence on the case, he believes Hancock did not have the right to shoot Young. He said if the victim would have approached the suspect with a weapon, he would feel differently.
Hancock’s capital murder trial is scheduled for April 19, 2021.