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Kai The Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker’s Father Vows To Fight Murder Conviction

Kai the hatchet-wielding hitchhiker was convicted in the murder of a New Jersey lawyer. But in an exclusive interview with Oxygen.com, his estranged father, Gil McGillivary, insisted his son didn’t get a fair trial. 

By Dorian Geiger
Caleb McGillivary

Caleb McGillivary, perhaps better known as "Kai the hatchet-wielding hitchhiker" — the backpacking surfer-turned-internet phenomenon — is now a convicted murderer.

On Wednesday, McGillivary, 30, a Canadian citizen, was convicted of first degree murder in the killing of New Jersey lawyer Joseph Galfy, who was beaten to death in 2013. McGillivary, who allegedly met Galfy over beers in New York’s Times Square, according to Union County investigators, was crashing at the New Jersey man’s home in Clark, where police later discovered his body.

But since his arrest roughly six years ago, McGillivary claimed that Galfy drugged and sexually assaulted him — and that he killed the 73-year-old military veteran in self-defense. But police, McGillivary said, either covered up that evidence or ignored it. 

“[Galfy] sustained numerous serious blunt-force injuries to his face, head, neck, chest, and arms, including three skull fractures, four broken ribs, and severe contusions, abrasions, and bleeding — injuries that contradicted McGillvary’s self-defense claim,” according to a Office of the Union County Prosecutor press release.

“This was a brutal, vicious, senseless crime, and we are pleased that the interests of justice have been served,” added prosecutor Michael Monahan

Meanwhile, however, McGillivary allegedly called the ruling a "false conviction,” and vowed it “will be overturned” in a statement posted to one of his Facebook fan pages, adding his case was “railroaded” by his own defense team.

“We have been documenting everything and already have more than enough instances of misconduct, abuse of discretion, and ineffectiveness of defense counsel to overturn this false conviction and get a new trial,” he allegedly wrote. 

McGillivary was represented by a public defender. The State of New Jersey Office of the Public Defender didn’t respond to Oxygen.com’s request for comment.

"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?" McGillvary wrote in a 2015 letter to his followers, according to NJ.com

McGillivary has 45 days to appeal the ruling, according to Mark Spivey, spokesperson for the Office of the Union County Prosecutor.

Caleb McGillivary

McGillivary’s father, Gil, in an interview with Oxygen.com a day after his son’s murder conviction, also believes Caleb was dealt an unfair trial.

“They used and abused my son in the United States and they’re trying to hang my boy,” Gil McGillivary, 63, said over the phone from Ontario, Canada.

“I’m really upset with how they handled his case, especially with the police not taking the evidence, and destroying the evidence. It’s sloppy police work to me and I think there’s a lot of collusion with the prosecutors and the lawyers.” 

The elder McGillivary, who said he last saw Caleb McGillivary in 2012, described a sporadic and distant father-son relationship. He said his son was born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, but lost touch with him following a custody battle with his former wife, who divorced him and remarried when McGillivary was 8. For most of McGillivary’s childhood, he said, his ex-wife prevented much contact between them. Gil McGillivary called his son a “hurting little boy.”

 “I can never hold you again,” he wrote in a Facebook post shortly after learning of his son’s conviction, which carries the possibility of 30 years to life in prison.

“I’m worried for him and [his] safety,” his father said. “Lifetime imprisonment, you can die young, you can die old. That’s just the way the cards are dealt sometimes.” 

Gil McGillivary claimed he couldn’t afford to travel to New Jersey for his son's trial but said he’d been following the case on social media. He also alleges an investigative coverup by authorities — he believes his son was drugged and sexually abused by the man prosecutors say McGillivary beat to death.

Gil McGillivary, too, said he’s a sexual abuse survivor. He claimed he was raped at an indigenous residential school in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada in the 1960s. 

“It’s something you never forget,” he said. “I understand what my son is going through to be drugged to be woken up, to not have any power or something like that. If something like that were to happen to me… if I was in the same boat again, I’d probably do the same thing, too.”

Caleb McGillivary

In 2013, "Kai" achieved internet fame overnight when he clubbed a man with a hatchet, allegedly protecting two women at a California intersection from a reportedly delusional man hurling racial slurs.

"'I am God, I am Jesus—I was sent here to take all the [racial slurs] to heaven,’” the man allegedly shouted shortly before McGillivary began swinging a hatchet at him, ABC reported. 

Jett McBride, the individual McGillivary attacked, survived the clubbing and was charged with attempted murder, although he was later acquitted. He was, however, convicted of assault with a deadly weapon, according to court documents, which also stated McBride was "insane.”

But it was  McGillivary’s sputtering, erratic, and profanity-laced interview with local television news that skyrocketed him to viral fame and earned him a massive internet following.

“So I f--king ran up behind him with a hatchet,” McGillivary, who wildly pantomimed the incident, told Fox affiliate KMPH six years ago. 

He described the entire episode as “gnarly.”

“Smash! Smash! Smash!” he yelled at the TV crew.

The interview was outrageous. Since the original video of the interview was uploaded on YouTube in February 2013, it’s been viewed more than 7 million times. And back then, it gained so much traction, McGillivary even scored an appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" But the nomadic young man’s fall from grace was astonishing. Months later, he was arrested for Galfy’s killing in Philadelphia. 

Jessob Reisbeck, the television reporter who interviewed McGillivary in the viral video, said he was “heartbroken” — and severely torn — to learn of McGillivary’s murder conviction. “It’s hard to comprehend that it’s very likely he could spend the rest of his life in prison,” Reisbeck told Oxygen.com. 

“I’m heartbroken for the kid, we created really cool times for each other, coincidentally, just coming face to face that day in February. We have kind of a cool bond. He possibly did something terrible and it breaks my heart someone lost their life," he explained.

Reisbeck, 37, who now anchors newscasts for an ABC affiliate in Washington, said he, too, basked in the viral moment, and that the encounter “changed his life.” 

“It was the craziest month or two of my life,” Reisbeck recalled. “It changed my life. For those two months, everybody around the world, you name a country, they were trying to contact me to get in contact with him. It still blows me away.” 

In the weeks that followed, Reisbeck said he assumed the role of McGillivary’s de facto agent, fielding and filtering interview and appearance requests, since the reporter was one of the only “people on the planet” who had the vagabond’s contact information. 

“Every show you could think of was trying to get him on the show — late night, day time,” said Reisbeck, who appeared on Kimmel’s talk show with McGillivary.

Producers for the Kardashian family even approached McGillivary for his own show, the ABC anchor claimed.

“It breaks my heart how this whole story ended. It was a fantastic, cool story, how big it got — how big he could have been. He could have had everything,” Reisbeck added. 

After the media rollercoaster and McGillivary’s arrest, Reisbeck said he was not totally shocked to learn the "hatchet-wielding hitchhiker" had beaten a man to death, if the sexual abuse allegations against his victim were indeed true.

“Kai always had a very dark place and angry place for people that violated other people whether it be physically, sexually, whatever,” he said. “I’m not too surprised it went that way if that gentleman tried to assault him. It doesn’t surprise me that Kai would have snapped, and would have hurt the guy.” 

Reisbeck said he and McGillivary have exchanged letters since his incarceration, but haven’t been in touch recently.

Following McGillvary’s arrest, his fans promoted Change.org and GoFundMe campaigns for the Canadian man. Although his following appears to have somewhat dissipated, Kai the Hitchhiker Legal Support Page, which has occasionally posted updates on his case, was flooded with comments following the former hitchhiker's murder conviction.

McGillivary is scheduled to be sentenced in Union County on June 13, according to prosecutors.  

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