DENVER – Prosecutors on Tuesday detailed how they plan to try and show a former Denver Uber driver committed premeditated murder when he shot and killed his passenger in June 2018 on Interstate 25, and the man’s defense attorneys outlined their argument that he committed the shooting in self-defense.
Attorneys delivered their opening statements on Tuesday morning – the second day of the trial for 31-year-old Michael A. Hancock – after a jury was selected Monday. Hancock is charged with one count of first-degree murder after deliberation in the death of his passenger, Hyun Kim, 45. He has pleaded not guilty.
What was not disputed in court Tuesday was some of what happened before the shooting, which happened in the early-morning hours of June 1, 2018.
Kim had gone to dinner with two friends and they went out to an Aurora karaoke café afterward and had drinks. Kim ordered an Uber ride home, which Hancock answered.
From there, the stories between what Hancock and his attorneys say happened and what prosecutors say happened begin to differ.
Prosecutors argued in their opening statements that at some point during the ride, Hancock’s vehicle slowed down on I-25, stopped on the shoulder and Hancock got out of the vehicle and shot at Kim 10 times, hitting him six times, before the vehicle went across the interstate again and hit a wall on the west side.
They argued that witnesses saw Hancock outside of the car when the shooting happened and that he chose to kill Kim when he got out of the vehicle and shot him. Prosecutors said that Kim was shot in the back and on his right side and that he did not pose a threat to Hancock when Hancock was out of the vehicle, saying Hancock “has Mr. Kim’s blood on his hands.”
But Hancock’s attorneys painted a picture of self-defense and argued that he had no choice but to defend himself against a man who they said was attacking their client as he was driving down the interstate.
They told the jury that they would show that prosecutors cannot prove the burden that Hancock committed first-degree murder during the trial, which is scheduled for five days.
Defense attorney Johnna Stuart painted Hancock as a family man, with kids aged 5 and 6, who worked at a group home for troubled youth and was going to school for animation while he drove Uber over night for extra money and to see his wife and kids.
She said he left his home on the night of May 31 to pick up Kim.
But she claimed that after Hancock picked up Kim from the karaoke spot, he took him to his stop a couple miles, but Kim did not get out, so he continued to drive. Stuart said Kim was heavily intoxicated during the ride.
An autopsy report showed Kim had a blood alcohol content level of .308 when the autopsy was performed at 9 a.m. on June 1 – more than three times the legal limit.
Prosecutors said Hancock drove more than 70 miles after the initial stop before getting back on to I-25 near University Boulevard. Stuart said Kim attacked Hancock sometime around this time while they were driving on I-25 – punching Hancock and pulling his hair.
Stuart claimed that is when Hancock slowed the car down and brought it to a stop while he continued to get attacked, and that he then got out of the car and used his weapon “to protect himself,” as the defense argued. Stuart said that Kim’s erratic behavior led Hancock to believe that he was in danger and had to shoot Kim lest he be killed himself.
Stuart said a security guard witnessed the car driving erratically on I-25 just before the shooting and pulled over because she was concerned. She said the guard heard gunshots and drove away but called police within 24 hours and reported seeing a man punching the driver of the car in the face.
That guard has an active warrant and attorneys are still looking for her.
Prosecutor Philip Reinert said that a witness saw Hancock’s car drift across the highway and that a witness made the first call to 911 – which was played in court Tuesday as Hancock dipped his head.
The caller told dispatch they saw a car run into the median and could see blood coming out of Hancock’s car, and said Hancock had asked they call police – something not disputed by prosecutors or the defense. The caller said they could see a dead body and asked if they wanted to talk to Hancock.
Hancock got on the phone and said he was driving an Uber passenger and needed an ambulance. He told dispatch that his passenger was punching him in the mouth and asked first responders to hurry so Kim could live. He also could be heard saying, “I’m black so I hope they don’t kill me,” and later wondering why he was getting arrested.
Stuart told the jury that they should keep an open mind and let evidence speak for itself – reminding them again that prosecutors had to prove that Hancock intended to kill Kim that night.
Uber policy bars riders and drivers from carrying firearms except in states that expressly prohibit companies from banning guns. While Colorado allows drivers to carry firearms to protect themselves and their property, Uber spokesman Andrew Hasbun said the company's policy applies in Colorado.