Self-Defense Raised in Deadly Stabbing at US Airways Facility

Prosecutors are still reviewing whether a US Airways employee who stabbed a co-worker to death in July acted in self-defense.

George Hayes Jr., 52, plunged a long screwdriver into the side of fellow flight-simulator technician Eric Kunins, 34, in the early morning of July 15 as the two were at work. Another worker at the airline facility at 1950 East Buckeye Road in Phoenix, told police he heard the two arguing in another room over a spare part for a flight simulator before the stabbing.

"I am not one of these white boys you can push around." — George Hayes Jr., just before he stabbed co-worker Eric Kunins with a screwdriver.

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Kunins, an Air Force veteran who lived in Maricopa, was pronounced dead at a local hospital. His supporters have started a Facebook site, "Justice for Eric Kunins," claiming that the victim was murdered and calling for authorities to take action against Hayes.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said today that self-defense has been raised in the case but didn't elaborate on whether Hayes raised it himself. Hayes never told police he was in fear of his life because of the unarmed co-worker. But just as "there are no magic words that will conclusively establish the use of force" in a self-defense case, failure to verbally state mortal fear doesn't mean a citizen has failed to properly stake the self-defense claim, Montgomery said.

In 2010, Montgomery formed a special panel of prosecutors to review self-defense cases. As per state law, the office is looking at the "reasonableness of the level of force" used and other issues, he said. But as of today, no charging decision had been made.

Hayes could not be reached for comment. He was interviewed by police after the incident but not handcuffed. He later was released without arrest.

Both men worked night shifts at the facility, repairing and maintaining flight simulators used by pilots. Kunins had been employed by the airline for seven years; Hayes for two.

Just after 4 a.m. on the tragic day, another employee who had arrived at work heard Hayes and Kunins arguing in a stock room.

"It's listed in the stock listing," Hayes told Kunins.

"It was not," Kunins replied.

The spat lasted less a minute, with both men raising their voices.

Hayes later told police he'd been holding a box under his left arm and a screwdriver in his right hand when Kunins, who was unarmed, started "yelling about a missing inventory item."

As they argued, Hayes admits he told Kunins, a black man, "I am not one of these white boys you can push around — you need to get out of my face," the report states.

Hayes claims Kunins hit him, causing him to fall backward and swing his right arm.

"You just stabbed me!" Kunins called out before falling to the floor.

The employee in the other room says Hayes called out to him, saying that Kunins "passed out and fell on my screwdriver." However, another employee told police that Hayes announced he had "stabbed Eric."

Text messages and statements from witnesses suggest the men had a friendly working relationship at times. They'd occasionally go to lunch together, and Kunins had recently invited Hayes to a party. But Kunins had encountered problems with at least two other employees in the past, police were told.

Two years ago, Kunins got into an "altercation" with a "problem employee," a technician manager told police. The problem employee was later fired. Last year, though, Kunins was demoted after punching another co-worker in the head.

Prosecutors could take prior incidents into account in a self-defense review, Montgomery said. The key issue would be whether the person claiming self-defense knew that a victim had "problems," he said.

In this case, Hayes did know about last year's punching incident — he'd been on-duty at the time.

Montgomery said all the circumstances of the case are being taken into account during the review.

UPDATE: Benjamin Taylor, an attorney who says he's working with the family, tells New Times, "We pray the County Attorney's Office does a full investigation and prosecutes the murderer of Mr. Eric Kunins."

Taylor, an activist attorney who won an NAACP Law Award in April, says he's acting as an advocate for the deceased man's family "to make sure their voice got heard."

Kunins served in Afghanistan during his time in the Air Force, he says, adding that he thinks Hayes' defense is weak.

"How is that self-defense when one man in unarmed and another has a screwdriver?" he says.
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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern