Robert Bivines didn’t intend to shoot and kill Ryan Thornton, but he feared for his life.
It’s the argument the former Uber Eats driver has maintained since the fatal shooting in February.
A stoic Bivines sat next to his attorney, Jackie Patterson, during opening statements Wednesday as he listened to Fulton County Senior Assistant District Attorney Brett Pinon argue Bivines intentionally shot Thornton outside his Buckhead condominium while making a delivery. At the time, Bivines had only been on the job a few days.
Pinon told jurors Bivines, seated in his car, shot Thornton four times and two of the bullets were fired after Thornton collapsed on the ground. Pinon said Thornton posed no threat since he didn’t have a weapon and his hands were in his pockets that chilly Feb. 17 night.
“Ryan didn’t have a weapon,” Pinon said. “He didn’t make a movement as if he had one.”
That day started off on a grave note for Thornton and his fiancée, Jerica Jones, who had to cremate her father with her twin sister, Pinon said. But for the couple, things were just beginning. Thornton had received a promotion at work and they had been recently engaged, Pinon said.
“It was something of a somber day for them, but they also wanted to celebrate their future,” Pinon said.
The pair decided to order food before ending their night. At 10:40 p.m., they used the Uber Eats app.
An hour later, Thornton would get the food from Bivines but never returned to his condo. Instead, Pinon said, he called Jones and told her: “Don’t panic, I’ve just been shot.”
Jones would find her fiancé, who she’d dated for 10 years, on the ground and bloodied with their Tin Lizzy’s order by his side.
Thornton, 30, a Morehouse graduate, was pronounced dead at Grady Memorial Hospital. He had no criminal record before the shooting.
However, Bivines did. Initially charged with aggravated assault, he was previously convicted of battery in DeKalb County. In 2010, Bivines, then 28, punched his brother Kenya in the forehead with brass knuckles and pleaded guilty. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter ruled during an immunity hearing Tuesday that the conviction could not be included in the trial since it was unrelated to the case.
While Pinon recounted (and at one point reenacted) the gory details after the February shooting, Patterson reminded jurors his client was allegedly threatened by Thornton before shots were fired.
Patterson claims Thornton approached Bivines and aggressively complained that he didn’t deliver the food to their door. When Bivines, who was seated in his car, tried to resolve the issue, Patterson said Thornton threatened to “(expletive) him up.”
“He had no choice,” Patterson said. “He thought Mr. Thornton was going to shoot him.”
Earlier this week, Bivines, 36, testified at an immunity hearing that he believed Thornton had a weapon.
“In my mind, I thought he was going to do something to me,” he said.
Bivines is expected to testify during the trial.
In other news:
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
With the largest team in the state, the AJC reports what’s really going on with your tax dollars and your elected officials. Subscribe today. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.
Your subscription to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.