GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. - By all accounts, Andrej Udovicic, of Lilburn, had a troubled life: fights with his girlfriend, drug dealing and what his mother called half-hearted suicide attempts.
And then, on the night of May 15, 2016, a 911 dispatcher picked up a call.
"What is the location of your emergency?” the dispatcher asked.
“Yes, ma’am. I’ve got a friend who has been shot. I don’t know if he got shot or shot himself,” Malachi Smith told the dispatcher.
Two years later, that question still lingers.
The official version
When Lilburn police arrived at the apartment complex, the 23-year-old was still alive but barely breathing. He’d been shot in the chest. Some of the blood had dried, but there was no gun inside the apartment. They found it in the nearby woods. It was an SK rifle, measuring 27 inches from the trigger to the tip.
Lilburn police would later charge Malachi Smith and Udovicic's on-again-off-again girlfriend, Diamonique Murry, with tampering with evidence. Investigators say the two moved marijuana and the rifle out of the apartment and into the nearby woods.
Records show Lilburn police investigated the case as a possible homicide until the Gwinnett County medical examiner finished her report.
The medical examiner ruled the case a suicide. In addition to the gunshot wound, the report cited “recent, superficially incised injuries on the anterior left wrist,” what his mother called a recent half-hearted suicide attempt.
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Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter told Gwinnett County Bureau Chief Tony Thomas the gunshot wound was also a cry for attention.
“I think he shot himself to try and get his girlfriend back and then he bled out,” Porter said.
A mother's fight for answers
Zdenka Udovicic doesn’t believe her son killed himself. She said she heard him when she was on the phone with Murry in the late afternoon of May 15.
“I heard him in the background, saying ‘Mom, she just shot me!’” Zdenka Udovicic said.
She hired a private investigator who dug up more information.
Marcus Bridges used to live in the apartment next to Udovicic. He said police didn’t write down his account of what happened, but told Thomas he heard a noise in the late afternoon.
“It sounded like a nail gun. Then I heard a lot of stuff moving around,” Bridges said. He said he saw Udovicic’s girlfriend run from the apartment, get into a black Toyota Corolla and speed away.
Two other witnesses told police they saw a black car speed off, but couldn’t see who was inside.
Zdenka Udovic also asked former state Chief Medical Examiner Kris Sperry to review the case. Sperry did, and said, “The circumstances of the shooting are extremely suspicious.”
And about those cuts on the wrist? Sperry said superficial cuts like that are “most often not associated with true suicidal intent.”
He summed up his report by saying, “The classification of this death as a 'suicide' was premature and based upon an incomplete investigation.”
“I wouldn't believe Kris Sperry if he told me the sky were blue,” District Attorney Danny Porter told Thomas.
In an email to Channel 2 Action News, the Gwinnett County medical examiner wrote, “The police and the DA’s office have been aware of the mother’s suspicions, as have I. To date, there is no evidence to support them.”
Prosecutors say they have evidence proving Udovicic's girlfriend dropped him off and left, and didn’t return until after the shooting. For investigators, that and the medical examiner’s findings were enough to close the case, but not for his grieving mother.
“They are making me look like I’m just crazy, (like) I'm just a mother who wants to blame somebody,” she said.
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