Tech Guru John McAfee Found Liable in 2006 Death

Aerotrekking photo

McAfee’s aerotrekking operation in New Mexico (photo via whoismcafee.com)

Antivirus pioneer John McAfee, who leapt to international attention when he went on the run after his next door neighbor was found murdered in Belize, has been found legally responsible for another man’s death in Arizona and ordered to pay $2.5 million in damages.

A civil court judge in Maricopa County, Arizona, found that McAfee was liable for the death of Robert Gilson, who died when the ultralight he was flying in crashed in a remote canyon in 2006. The pilot, 22-year-old Joel Gordon Bitow, who also died, was McAfee’s nephew. At the time of his death Bitow was the head flight instructor of a company that McAfee had established to promote the sport of “aerotrekking,” which involved flying very small aircraft at very low altitudes over remote and often rugged terrain. Aviation experts criticized the pastime as reckless.

McAfee succeeded in attracting nationwide media attention for his venture, with articles appearing in the Wall Street Journal, Popular Mechanics, and other publications. But after Gilson’s heirs filed a wrongful death lawsuit against him, McAfee reportedly sold all his US holdings and moved to Belize, where he said his lawyers had advised him that “a judgment in the States is not valid.”

McAfee’s absence from the US effectively caused the wrongful death case against him to slow to a snail’s pace. Then, in 2012, reports that McAfee had become heavily involved in psychoactive drugs and criminal gangs came to a head when police found that his neighbor, 52-year-old Gregory Faull, with whom McAfee had been quarreling, had been murdered with a single gunshot to the back of his head. Though no arrest warrant was issued for him, McAfee went on the run for three weeks, peddling his story to press and stoking a worldwide news frenzy as he moved about the country. Ultimately he crossed the border into Guatemala, where he was arrested and deported back to the United States. He did not attend the Gilson trial.

In addition to the Gilson case, McAfee is also facing a wrongful-death lawsuit in Florida over the murder of Gregory Faull.

At this point, McAfee can still choose to appeal the decision. If he does so and loses again, he can either pay the penalty (which will have grown with accumulated interest) or be subject to what’s called a “debtor’s examination,” in which his creditors will be able to subpoena his financial holdings. If that happens, light will at last be shed on one of the great mysteries of the unfolding McAfee saga: just how much money the software pioneer actually has.

“The Gilson family have suffered terribly over the years that it took to bring this case to trial and believes that the verdict provides some measure of justice. Unfortunately, Mr. McAfee has given no indication that he will voluntarily pay the judgment or even offer to settle,” said the Gilsons’ lawyer, Justin Green. “While we hope that he changes his mind, in the event that he does not we have committed to the Gilson family that we will use every legal means to collect on the judgment.”

Click below for the actual document issued by the presiding judge:

McAfee Judgment