Uber Eats driver will have to face jury trial in customer’s killing

A Fulton County Superior Court judge declined Tuesday to drop charges against a former Uber Eats driver who claimed he shot and killed a customer outside a Buckhead, Georgia, condominium in self-defense earlier this year.

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Judge Jerry Baxter, who presided over the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal, said he didn’t think the video convincingly showed that Robert Bivines shot Ryan Thornton in self-defense. Baxter instead decided to move forward with a jury trial.

Bivines’ attorney, Jackie Patterson filed a request for an immunity hearing late last week, allowing a judge to decide if his client acted in self-defense when he allegedly killed Thornton in February.

If Baxter had agreed, Bivines would have avoided a jury trial and possibly have his charges dropped, Patterson said.

Wearing slacks, a button-down shirt with a tie and eyeglasses (an accessory now needed after he was stabbed in the eye at the Fulton County Jail), Bivines took the stand in the Tuesday morning hearing to tell his version of events from that night.

Bivines said the night he delivered the food, Thornton complained with “an aggressive posture” that he couldn’t bring the delivery directly to his condo. Bivines testified he was closing out the order in the Uber Eats app on his phone when he asked Thornton twice what was wrong.

Things escalated after that.

Bivines said Thornton, who was headed back to his building, turned around, had one hand in his pocket and “threatened to (expletive Bivines) up.”

“In my mind, I thought he was going to do something to me,” Bivines said with a cracked voice, adding he believed Thornton had a weapon. That’s when Bivines grabbed his gun, laying in the front passenger seat, and began shooting.

Video showed during the hearing shows four shots fired at Thornton as he approached the car. Two of the shots were fired after Thornton collapsed to the ground. 

Bivines drove away after the shooting.

Thornton, a Morehouse graduate, was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

In the moments leading to the shooting, Bivines said he feared for his life.

“I didn’t understand why he was coming back to my car,” he said.

Despite the testimony, Baxter felt the decision would be best left to a jury.

Baxter also denied a motion by Fulton County Senior Assistant District Attorney Brett Pinon which would have allowed Bivines’ previous battery conviction in DeKalb County to be included in the trial. In 2010, Bivines, then 28, punched his brother Kenya in the forehead with brass knuckles and pleaded guilty.

Baxter denied the motion saying the cases were not related.

The trial began Tuesday with jury selection and is expected to continue this week.

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