DENVER -- Denver Uber driver Michael Hancock was acquitted of all charges and released from jail Thursday afternoon, 16 months after he fatally shot a passenger during a mid-ride dispute.
Hancock was accused of first-degree murder in the death of 45-year-old Hun Soo Kim.
As he walked out of jail he told KDVR it felt like "God just gave me a big ol' hug. Thank you, thank you."
Hancock was elated as he sprinted out of the jail and down the sidewalk.
Inside the courtroom, when the judge uttered the words “not guilty,” Hancock’s elated family members embraced.
“I’m so glad his sons get to see their dad today,” said Dominique Christina, a family friend of Hancock. “All the tears. All the tears. All the gratitude."
Still, Hancock's supporters say no one truly won in the case, as Kim's family will never get him back.
“Alongside the joy there’s still that necessary grieving process – someone is gone," Christina said.
From the beginning of the trial, Hancock said he acted in self-defense.
Hancock said 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 testified he purposely aimed low, never intending to kill 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.
Christina believes the jury put themselves in the driver’s seat of the car and imagined Hancock’s same fear.
“I think that that jury identified with being afraid on a highway at 2 o’clock in the morning with a stranger,” she said.
Christina said even behind bars, Hancock was making a positive difference.
“Talking to the guards and how they were saying how much of an impact Mikey has had on other inmates, you know. That he prays with them, he studies with them, he’s kind to them," she said.
The Denver County District Attorney's Office said, “This was a very hard case and while we respect the jury's decision, we are disappointed.”
Corboy and Demetrio, the law firm representing Kim's family, announced Thursday they are planing 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 Francis Patrick Murphy, a partner at Corboy and Demetrio. “Hancock routinely violated this rule and Uber failed to enforce its policy.”
It is also possible the Kim family may now decide to file a civil wrongful death lawsuit personally against Hancock.