Wichita A man whose son admitted killing another teen-ager following a car chase that began after the family's mailbox was vandalized has been acquitted of murder.
A Sedgwick County District Court jury that heard the case against Dennis May deliberated about six hours before returning the verdict Thursday afternoon.
May, 51, of Andale, had been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Steve Lewick, 16. The boy was shot the day after Christmas last year after the chase by the Mays over snow-packed rural roads.
May's son Josh, now 17, pleaded guilty in February to second-degree murder for firing the fatal shot. He could be in juvenile detention anywhere from two years to six months after he turns 22.
Defense attorney Les Hulnick said jurors were given the alternative of finding the elder May guilty of either first- or second-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter, or acquitting him.
"I'm exhilarated," said Hulnick. "Once again, the system works. The jurors performed as they should have, because Dennis May was in fact not guilty. Notwithstanding, he feels very badly and is sorry for the loss of young Steve Lewick."
The first-degree murder charge was based on a death having resulted from the inherently dangerous felony of firing into an occupied motor vehicle. Hulnick said it made no sense for the father to be accused of intentionally aiding and abetting his son in what, based on the boy's plea, was an unintentional killing.
Hulnick said the May family's mailbox had been the target of vandalism for years, and on the night of Dec. 26, his client heard a dog bark, looked out and saw someone beating on the mailbox.
Hulnick said May picked up a .22-caliber rifle and went outside, and a vehicle left the area. Discovering that the mailbox had been broken off its post, May wanted to just forget about the vandals, Hulnick said, but his son, then 16, wanted to pursue the fleeing vehicle.
May got in the truck with his son and daughter Jessica, 15, and the chase began.
May testified Wednesday that he took the gun along because he didn't want to leave it to rust in the snow. When they caught up with a fleeing Ford Explorer, May said, he told Josh to block it with the pickup truck.
May said he did not see his son grab the gun, but he heard shots. After the Explorer stopped moving, he told his son, "You hit something or someone."
Hulnick said that the elder May took the rifle and threw it into a ditch, but that after they realized one of the boys had been shot, he called 911 and sent his daughter to retrieve the gun.
"The absolutely uncontroverted fact is that after the shots were fired, Dennis May said, 'Oh, Josh, not the gun,"' Hulnick said. "That was most telling of his state of mind, that he was not intentionally aiding and abetting. The gun was taken not for offense, but for defense."
"Unfortunately, in an impulsive moment, Josh fired three shots and shot a friend of his," Hulnick said.