Five years ago, he was ‘Kai, the hatchet-wielding hitchhiker.’ Now he’ll be tried for murder

Caleb Lawrence McGillvary was an internet sensation in 2013. Four years later one wonders whatever happened to “Kai the hatchet-wielding hitchhiker.”
Caleb Lawrence McGillvary was an internet sensation in 2013. Four years later one wonders whatever happened to “Kai the hatchet-wielding hitchhiker.” AP

In the span of a few months in 2013, Caleb McGillvary went from being an off-kilter hero and darling of late-night TV and viral videos to a suspected murderer, in jail and awaiting trial in New Jersey.

Now, after five years, “Kai the hatchet-wielding hitchhiker” may finally get his day in court. According to his lawyer, John G. Cito, the trial is expected to begin the first week in January.

As a recap: McGillvary gained national attention (and the nickname) after saving two people in a stranger-than-fiction encounter in Fresno. There was video. It went viral.

He spent several weeks after that living as a kind of pseudo-celebrity before dropping off the radar.

When he reappeared, it was in handcuffs in New Jersey, arrested on suspicion of murder in the death of a 73-year-old lawyer named Joseph Galfy.

The case was salacious; McGillvary claimed in a Facebook post written around the time of his arrest that he had been drugged and sexually assaulted. The case has also been slow to proceed, marked by a suicide attempt, a written plea to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and multiple suits and motions against authorities in which McGillvary claimed that investigators destroyed and/or failed to collect evidence in his case.

Only recently, in a final round of discovery, did his attorney receive the additional documents and computer files he needed for the trial to proceed. McGillvary has been well apprised of the delays along the way, Cito says.

“He’s not happy about it, but he knows it’s necessary to properly prove his innocence at trial.”

To that point, Cito believes his client will be exonerated.

McGillvary has always maintained his innocence, claiming he acted in self-defense. Using lethal force in defending sexual assault is justified under New Jersey law, Cito says.

“He did respond with the appropriate force to stop the attack.”

Since his arrest, McGillvary has gained a core of supporters who follow the case (and McGillvary’s musings on life) via social media. Early on, supporters created a GoFundMe campaign and a petition on Change.org. There’s an “official” Youtube page and a Kai the Hitchhiker Legal Support Page on Facebook, where supporters can get updates on the case and donate supplies to McGillvary in jail.

According to the page’s “about” section, it “was created by Kai’s request so that his supporters have a space to support him.” A previous support page was deleted by the administrator.

Other supporters have been more direct, Cito says, even sending clothes for McGillvary to wear at his trial.

Says Cito: “He appreciates the people who have been in contact.”

Joshua Tehee: 559-441-6479, @joshuatehee
Related stories from Fresno Bee