After several hours of deliberation, a coroner's inquest jury ruled Monday night that a fatal shooting outside a Missoula strip club on Labor Day was "legally justified."
Jurors were tasked with recommending whether charges should be filed against Michael Gordon, who fatally shot Louisiana resident Christopher Hymel after an altercation in the Fox Club parking lot.
About 6:30 p.m., the jury of seven men and one woman, including an alternate, handed their decision to Missoula County Sheriff Carl Ibsen.
"His death was not caused by criminal means and we find that the use of deadly force by Michael Gordon was legally justified under Montana law," Ibsen read.
Before the jury went into deliberations, the packed courtroom heard from Gordon himself, who sobbed while giving his account of shooting.
"I didn't do anything. I didn't say anything," he said, during his emotional testimony. "I was attacked out of nowhere."
Gordon, who exited the Fox Club a few minutes before Hymel and his group of four friends, was sitting in his running truck when the group walked in front of the vehicle. He said he rolled down the window to say goodbye to the two women, who he had known since childhood.
"The next thing I know, out of the corner of my eye, this guy just approaches me out of nowhere," he said in the midst of tears. "I look over ... I just get hit right across my face. I remember ... he hit me so hard, I didn't know what was going on," he said.
Gordon claimed he was pummeled over and over by Hymel and he put his arm up to protect himself, while he was shoved over the center console, where the gun was located. He said he was trying to use his arm for protection and that was the reason why he didn't roll up the window.
In the midst of the fight, Gordon grabbed his gun and exited the vehicle. Hymel, who had been dragged away by a friend, Stephen Ellingson, approached him again.
Gordon fired a single shot, in what he called a "split-second" decision. The bullet punctured Hymel's lung and ripped through his aorta.
Gordon repeated several times that Hymel was outlined by the bright lights of the Fox Club behind him, and all he saw when he stepped out of the vehicle was a huge "black figure" coming toward him.
In the heat of the moment, Gordon said he didn't consider driving away because he didn't know if his truck was even on.
According to the police testimony, Gordon and Hymel were both intoxicated.
The inquest began Monday morning with testimony from several of Hymel's friends who were present during the shooting, and who told a different version of events. The friends claim Gordon enticed Hymel to his truck after insulting Hymel's girlfriend, Megan Navarro, and friend Chira Graham.
In varying degrees of emotional distress, the friends testified that their group of five exited the club about 1 a.m. and were by all accounts happy, after what Ellingson called one of the "best nights of their lives."
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According to their testimony, Gordon began catcalling Graham and Navarro when they walked in front of his truck. Graham had evidently complained to Navarro about wearing uncomfortable shoes and Navarro was attempting to carry her on her back.
It's unknown what exactly Gordon may have said to the women. None of the four friends remember what was said, but they all agreed Gordon said something vulgar. But according to surveillance videos, Gordon's truck lights did turn on and he revved his engine.
Graham and her boyfriend, Ellingson, testified that several months earlier, Gordon had sexually harassed her at a bar and the comment was so offensive, she slapped him.
Whatever was said on the night of the shooting provoked Hymel to approach Gordon's truck. When he reached the driver's-side window, the two exchanged four to seven punches each, according to Hymel's friends.
When Hymel stepped back to take off his shirt, Ellingson said Gordon reached for the gun in the center console. Ellingson said he told Gordon to "put that (expletive) away," and Gordon retorted, "You don't think I'm serious?"
Following the shot, Gordon told the group of people that had gathered around them that he had shot Hymel in self-defense.
"No that was murder," Ellingson said during Monday's inquest.
Navarro, Hymel's girlfriend, also took the stand and emotionally recounted similar events. She said she knew Gordon from growing up in Missoula, but claimed Hymel and Gordon had never met before.
She also told the packed courtroom that three days after her boyfriend's death, she found out she was pregnant with his child.
Missoula Police Detective Mitch Lang showed two surveillance videos from the night of the shooting, including one without sound that showed how the scene played out in the parking lot.
In it, it's clear Hymel stopped and threw his drink on the ground and approached Gordon in his truck.
Hymel then began to throw punches at Gordon through the driver's-side window, but it's not clear what role Gordon played in the fight. At one point during the fight, the truck started shaking and pieces of the window's rain shield shattered.
Ellingson then grabbed Hymel and pulled him back, ripping his shirt. Hymel took his shirt off and charged Gordon as he was exiting the truck. Gordon then fired one shot into Hymel's chest.
Hymel attempted to get up, but collapsed onto the ground.
Representatives of Hymel's family didn't want to speak Monday night afterthe hearing's conclusion. Hymel's mother, Chrystal Perez, previously told the Missoulian she would consider filing a civil suit against Gordon.