What did Robert Bivines and Ryan Thornton argue about before Thornton was found lifeless outside his Buckhead condominium?
The answer could help determine if the Uber Eats driver acted in self-defense.
At a preliminary hearing in Fulton County court on Tuesday, Bivines’ attorney Jackie Patterson argued his client shot Thornton after he approached the delivery driver’s car twice — hands in his pockets —after collecting his food.
“It’s no question, based on testimony, that no one knew what the argument was about and there were no witnesses,” Patterson said.
The crime has served as reminder that the increasing popularity of online delivery services like Uber Eats, comes with risks.
According to Atlanta police Det. Andre Lowe, the two men were seen on surveillance video arguing after Bivines dropped off Thornton’s food Feb. 17.
Lowe testified Bivines, 36, fired four shots from his white Volkswagen Beetle before leaving the scene. He added that a witness also told police Bivines flew past him while he was stopped at a stop sign.
Lowe said he did not know what the argument was about, but Fulton County chief senior assistant district attorney Bruce Dutcher said it was clear Bivines was “willing to shoot someone over how their food was delivered.”
Patterson, however, maintained his client shot in self-defense since Thornton approached the car twice and could’ve left the conversation. But Atlanta police said Thornton was unarmed.
“This just defies common sense that someone is going to go outside and get into an armed dispute with their Uber driver,” Dutcher said.
In addition to murder, Bivines faces aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony charges.
Bond was denied for Bivines, who only had minor traffic violations and a battery charge attached to his name before the murder charges.
In 2010, Bivines pleaded guilty to a battery charge in DeKalb County. In that case, Bivines, then 28, punched his brother Kenya in the forehead with brass knuckles at the Azalea Ridge Apartments.
But that’s not the man Quonetta Bivines, said she knew.
Bivines admitted to prosecutors she was not aware of the prior conviction, but insisted her brother wouldn’t defy law enforcement.
“I feel like I know him pretty well,” she said.
Bivines’ family and friends told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he had always been “mild-mannered and a gentleman.”
“On a personal level, there was nothing over the period of time that I’ve known Mr. Bivines that was questionable,” Friend Toby Carwell said. Carwell got to know Bivines through his sister Shannon, who has dated Bivines for two years.
Toby Carwell said Bivines — an honorably discharged veteran — was there for him at times when no one else was and that he’d “never known him to be hot-headed in any altercation...or looking for trouble.”
“It’s an unfortunate situation for both sides,” he said. “I hate it happened.”
Thornton had graduated Morehouse College with a political science degree last year. The 30-year-old had recently started a new job.
“Ryan was an ambitious student with so much promise. He was well-respected by his peers and highly regarded by his professors,” President David A. Thomas said at the time of his death. “We at Morehouse College will keep Ryan's family in our thoughts and prayers.”
Tears streaming down her face, Bivines’ girlfriend Shannon Carwell told The AJC she shared the Thornton family’s pain.
The couple lost a child last year after he was stillborn.
“My heart goes out to the family. No one wants to bury their son.”