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Uber driver accused of killing passenger found not guilty; Victim's family to pursue civil lawsuit

A jury deliberated Wednesday and Thursday before acquitting Michael Hancock of murder.

DENVER — Uber driver Michael Hancock on Thursday was acquitted of all charges in relation to the fatal shooting of 45-year-old passenger Hyun Kim.

A jury began deliberating Wednesday and continued into Thursday morning before finding Hancock not guilty of murder for the case involving the shooting of Kim during an in-app ride on I-25 near the University Boulevard exit in June 2018.

Corboy & Demetrio, the attorney that represents the family of Kim, said they plan to file a wrongful death lawsuit against Uber.

"The fact remains that the shooting could have been prevented if Uber had enforced one of its cardinal rules: Drivers are not allowed to have a gun in the car,” said Corboy & Demetrio Partner Francis Patrick Murphy. “Hancock routinely violated this rule and Uber failed to enforce its policy."

Many of Hancock's family members were in tears and shouted in celebration in the hallway outside the courtroom shortly after the verdict was read. Hancock was silent during the verdict, but made his hand into a fist and pounded his heart shortly after.

Hancock was released from jail on Thursday afternoon and was greeted with loud cheers and hugs from family members and friends. He had been in custody since the shooting in June 2018.

Upon his release, Hancock embraced his mother, Stephanie, in a long hug and she kissed him numerous times on the forehead.

"God is faithful, that's all we have to say," said Stephanie Hancock said as they left the jail.

"Justice prevailed. Justice prevailed," said Hancock's sister. When asked if she had any doubt she responded, "No, because self defense is not a crime."

Jurors had three options in the case:

  • Convict Hancock of first-degree murder
  • Convict Hancock of second-degree murder
  • Acquit Hancock of all charges

Final arguments were laid out to a packed courtroom Tuesday afternoon.

Hancock's defense team argued he fired shots after Kim attacked him. Kim's blood-alcohol level was nearly four times the legal limit of alcohol intoxication for driving.

Credit: Courtesy Hancock Family

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In closing arguments, Chief Deputy District Attorney Philip Reinert said through evidence presented, they’ve proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Hancock killed Kim with intent and deliberation. He also argued:

  • The 70 miles driven by Hancock was for an additional $35 in fare.
  • It took Hancock 12 seconds to slow from 60 mph to a near stop on I-25, emphasizing that this was not “an emergency stop.”
  • Because Hancock was armed with a permitted handgun and knife, he was “projecting” himself onto Kim, believing Kim had a weapon and was possibly reaching for a gun. (Kim was unarmed, police found a wallet and cigarettes in his pocket.)
  • Hancock was “in control” because he put his gun back in its holster.
  • Hancock did not have a reasonable reason to believe his life was in danger.
  • Hancock tampered with evidence by taking his knife, putting it in Kim’s hand to see if Kim was still alive, as Hancock testified, then replaced the knife between the front seats.

“It doesn’t make any sense to put a knife in someone’s hand to see if they are still alive,” Reinert said.

When the defense showed a photo to the jury of the hematoma, or bruise and swelling, and said, “This is why Michael Hancock shot Hyun Kim,” Hancock was shaking his head in disagreement.

“He literally shot him in the back,” Reinert said. “Motivation isn’t required here, intent and deliberation is clear.”

Credit: Courtesy Kim Family/Corboy & Demetrio

Defense attorney Johnna Stuart began her closing statement by reminding jurors that Hancock’s presumption of innocence remains and that he is still presumed innocent.

“If you think, or have a strong feeling that he acted in self-defense, then he is not guilty,” Stuart said,

She said Hancock has no record of issues with any other Uber rides – Kim had a complaint filed against him for being aggressive during an argument with a driver.

Stuart laid out the events that happened that night, according to Hancock:

  • After Hancock picked up and attempted to drop Kim off at the predetermined destination, Kim chose not to get out of the car.
  • After driving away together from that location, Hancock eventually asked Kim to put another address in the Uber app and told Kim he wasn’t going to continue to drive around without an address.
  • Hancock said at one point they got a little lost but figured it out and kept driving.
  • Kim, who was in the front seat, began touching Hancock’s leg. He thought it was an accident at first, but it happened again. On the third time, on I-25 near the Broadway exit, a few miles north of where the shooting eventually occurred, Hancock told Kim, “That’s it, I’m done.”
  • Kim then began touching the steering wheel and the ignition. Then he began punching Hancock in the face.
  • Hancock punched Kim back in the neck; the car was swerving at this point and eventually slowed.
  • Hancock jumped out of the car while it was still moving, but Kim pulled his hair, and that’s when Hancock pulled out his gun.

Stuart emphasized to jurors that on multiple occasions, Hancock tried to deescalate the situation: verbally and physically, and he even tried to flee the car before resorting to using deadly force. Hancock maintained his intent wasn’t to kill, but eliminate, the threat.

RELATED: Uber driver enters not guilty plea in the shooting death of a passenger

Denver District Court Judge Shelley Ilene Gilman presided over the case, which was scheduled to last two weeks.

Hancock pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the case last November. He is not related to Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. 

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