DENVER — A jury on Thursday found Uber driver Michael Hancock not guilty of murder in last year’s fatal shooting of a passenger while driving on Interstate 25 in Denver.
Jurors sided with Hancock, 31, who argued that he was defending himself against passenger Hyun Soo Kim.
After the verdict was read, Hancock’s family hugged, sobbed and cried out in joy before leaving the courthouse without comment.
Hancock was released from jail on Thursday afternoon.
“Like God just gave me a big ol’ hug,” Hancock said after he was released. “Thank you.”
Hancock said the 45-year-old Kim made unwanted sexual advances and attacked him when Hancock threatened to pull over during the June 1, 2018 ride.
Prosecutors said Hancock stopped the car, went to the front passenger side where Kim was sitting and fired 10 bullets from his semi-automatic handgun. At least five struck Kim.
Hancock, who was not seriously injured, then put a knife in Kim’s hand to get his fingerprints on it, authorities said.
Hancock testified that he kept the knife under his seat and put it in Kim’s hand to see if he was still alive.
The fatal ride began after Hancock picked up Kim at a karaoke bar. Kim’s original destination was 2 miles away.
Surveillance video showed Hancock’s car arriving at that location. But Kim — who was drunk — did not get out of the car.
Uber records showed that by the time the shooting occurred, the car had traveled about 70 miles from the spot where Kim was picked up.
A defense lawyer said Hancock eventually demanded that Kim enter another address into the Uber app.
Lawyer Johnna Stuart said Kim touched Hancock more than once on the leg and became even more aggressive when Hancock challenged him.
Kim punched the driver in the face and reached for the steering wheel and ignition, Stuart told jurors in her closing argument.
Hancock tried to jump out of his still-rolling car, but Kim attempted to pull him back by his dreadlocks, prompting Hancock to grab his gun, Stuart said.
Prosecutors said it was possible Kim did not get out at his original destination because he passed out and Hancock drove around to increase the fare.
The prosecutors also acknowledged there was a fight inside the car, and it was probably started by Kim, possibly after he woke up startled and was upset about being driven around in the car.
Hancock had swelling above his eyebrow after the killing, according to police photographs.
Kim had bruises on his right hand, autopsy photos showed. However, prosecutors said Hancock’s injury was not serious enough for him to have reasonably feared for his life.
Deputy District Attorney Brenna Zortman said more than two years of Uber records did not show any cases of Kim displaying sexual interest in other drivers.
Uber records for Hancock, who is married and has two children, showed no previous problems, his lawyers countered.
Zortman said she believes Hancock is sorry for shooting Kim but called the killing deliberate and intentional.
“Regret does not negate intent,” she said.
Prosecutors did not offer a motive.
Stuart said Hancock worked as an Uber driver to supplement his modest income from his job at a youth group home and drove at night to avoid missing family time.
She told jurors it did not make sense that he would throw his life away by killing Kim for no reason.