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Uber driver found not guilty of murdering Denver passenger

DENVER, Oct 10 (Reuters) - A former driver with the ride-sharing service Uber, who said he fatally shot a passenger in self-defense along a Denver highway ramp in 2018, was found not guilty on Thursday of murder, a court official said.

Michael Andre Hancock, 31, was acquitted by a Denver jury of first-degree murder in the slaying of 45-year-old Hyun Kim following a nine-day trial, Rob McCallum, a spokesman for the Colorado Judicial Branch, said in a statement.

The Colorado Public Defender's Office, which represented Hancock, has a policy of not commenting on its cases outside of court.

Carolyn Tyler, a spokeswoman for the Denver District Attorney's Office, said in a written statement: "This was a hard case and while we are disappointed in the outcome, we respect the jury's decision."

According to a Denver police probable cause affidavit, a motorist who came upon the scene along a highway ramp in the early morning hours of June 1, 2018 said that Hancock told him that he shot Kim after he was attacked.

Police said they removed a semi-automatic pistol from Hancock's waistband, and later recovered 10 spent 40-caliber cartridges on the shoulder of the highway. Hancock had a valid permit for the weapon.

An autopsy showed Kim was struck six times and died of multiple gunshot wounds, including to his back and chest. Kim had a blood-alcohol level of .308, nearly four times the legal limit for impairment, according to a toxicology report.

Hancock, who has been held without bond since his arrest, testified that Kim made unwanted sexual advances toward him and punched him in the face when he was rebuffed, and that he shot Kim in self-defense, the Denver Post newspaper reported.

Jurors deliberated for about 12 hours over two days before reaching their verdict.

The shooting came at a time when San Francisco-based Uber Technologies Inc faced criticism over its vetting of drivers.

In 2017, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission fined Uber $8.9 million for allowing 57 people to drive for it despite "previous felony convictions, major moving violations ... and numerous instances of individuals driving with suspended, revoked or canceled driver's licenses," according a statement from the agency.

The fine was ultimately waived after Uber agreed to spend $2.4 million annually to increase the frequency of its background checks for drivers, according to a settlement agreement. (Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Daniel Wallis)