A DeKalb County jury took three hours this week to acquit a man of murdering his stepson's friend.
Juan Malloy, 46, had always contended the killing of 23-year-old Montinez Gibbs was an accident that happened when he was trying to wrestle a gun away from Gibbs, who was drunk.
DeKalb police and prosecutors didn't believe him. He had been in jail with no bond since July 2010 because District Attorney Robert James' office secured a murder indictment after a judge at a preliminary hearing had reduced the charge to manslaughter, said Malloy's defense lawyer, Mawuli Mel Davis.
Malloy lost a year of his life because of an overzealous prosecution, Davis said.
"From the very start they were treating it as a murder. They never investigated the possibility that it was an accident, and they never did anything to reconstruct the shooting," Davis said. “Somebody was dead and they never bothered to look at any other options."
"It was a tough case," district attorney's office spokesman Erik Burton said. "You still have a dead 23-year-old victim."
On July 9, 2010, Malloy was getting a ride from his stepson after work to pick up a new battery for his car, Davis said. On the way, they picked up Gibbs, who had become intoxicated at a strip club.
Gibbs tried to bum a cigarette and Malloy, who was riding in the back seat with him, refused, which set off the dispute. Angry, Gibbs pulled out a .38-caliber revolver and cocked it and placed it on his lap, which frightened Malloy, who grabbed the gun when Gibbs reached for it, Davis said.
Malloy was trying to point the gun toward the back window when it went off and the bullet struck Gibbs, Davis said.
He acknowledged police had reason for suspicion. Not only was Gibbs shot in the back of the head, but Malloy fled after they took Gibbs to DeKalb Medical Center. Police said Malloy's stepson and his stepson's girlfriend, who was also in the car, reported Malloy and Gibbs were arguing, and when the gun went off they looked back and saw Malloy holding the gun, Davis said.
Malloy was also a convicted felon for a nonviolent offense in Alabama, but he had turned his life around and was employed at a business in Norcross, Davis said.
After the verdict Thursday, Malloy, in tears, apologized to the victim's mother and father in court, Davis said.
"He said he loved their son," Davis said. "The mother accepted the apology, but the father just shook his head. He couldn't do it."
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