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Six years ago, a charismatic, foul-mouthed, bandana-wearing, hatchet-swinging hitchhiker became an internet sensation for a bizarre interview with a Fresno, California television news station.
His name was Kai—and he had reportedly come to the rescue of two women who were being attacked by another man at a construction site at a traffic intersection in 2013.
“So I f---ing ran up behind him with a hatchet,” he told Fox affiliate KMPH.
“Smash! Smash! Smash!” he shouted at the cameras.
In an erratic and long-winded account of the encounter, the drifter told the station that he clubbed the alleged predator with a hatchet several times, describing the episode as "gnarly."
Jett McBride, the man Kai attacked, survived and was charged with attempted murder. He was ultimately acquitted on that charge but was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon, according to court documents, which also indicated McBride was deemed "insane" at the time of the crime.
Kai's interview cemented him as a household meme and catapulted him to instant internet stardom. He was dubbed “Kai the hatchet-wielding hitchhiker” and his story went wildly viral. Kai, a Canadian whose real name is Caleb McGillivary, according to the Associated Press, landed a guest appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and gained a massive worldwide online following.
But McGillivary’s fame was short-lived. He was arrested in Philadelphia about three months later for murder in connection with the 2013 death of 73-year-old New Jersey lawyer Joseph Galfy, who police allege was beaten to death by the former internet star. His trial began in Union County this week, according to The Rolling Stone.
The Washington Post reported that McGillivary met Galfy over beers in New York City’s Times Square. Galfy reportedly offered to host McGillivary at his home in Clark, New Jersey, where police would later find his beaten body.
Since his arrest, McGillivary has continually insisted he was acting in self-defense. When he pleaded not guilty in court last year, the now-30-year-old claimed Galfy drugged and raped him the night before—and that the police covered up the evidence.
"How can I be expected to prove my innocence when the prosecutor gets rid of any evidence I could use to show I was defending myself from a drug-facilitated sexual assault?" McGillivary wrote in a letter his fanbase posted online in 2015, according to NJ.com.
"The [Union County Prosecutor's Office] seems to think because I'm an indigent illegal immigrant from Canada, they can violate my procedural rights without consequence. This is an outrage."
It’s unknown why the case has taken six years to come to trial, a fact that McGillivary’s parents are shocked by.
"You don't treat an innocent person the way he's been treated,” McGillivary's mother, Shirley Stromberg, told NJ.com. Stromberg, who lives in Alberta, Canada, maintained her son’s innocence, but admitted he struggled with behavioral issues growing up.
“I mean, whoever the person is, you don't treat them like that."
The Union County Prosecutor’s Office declined to comment on the delay to Oxygen.com.
While in prison, McGillivary has filed an array of motions, studied law, and attempted suicide. He even wrote a letter to then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
"[The police] failed to collect many items that could have been used to drug me from the house, or samples from the carpet where they knew the assault occurred," McGillivary wrote in his plea for help to the former governor, NJ.com reported.
McGillivary’s supporters initially promoted Change.org petitions and GoFundMe campaigns to raise awareness and funds for legal fees for the YouTube personality. But according to NJ.com, that support has waned.
Mark Spivey, a spokesperson for the Union County Prosecutor's Office, said McGillivary’s trial is expected to last “four to six weeks.”
He could face life in prison if convicted, according to The Washington Post.
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