The family of Tanee Natividad wept as the court clerk read that the man accused of killing the 16-year- old in 2001 was not guilty.
After more than a week of testimony, the jury deliberated for little more than four hours to reach a verdict in the first-degree-murder trial of Max Montijo LaMadrid.
Dan Cooper, LaMadrid's attorney, said the state proved nothing more than his client fired a gun on the night of the shooting.
"Max is not guilty," Cooper told jurors in his closing arguments.
This was the third trial LaMadrid faced in the killing. Two previous trials ended in hung juries on the murder charge.
One of the earlier trials did return a guilty verdict on a charge of shooting at an occupied structure, for which he will be sentenced on Aug. 19. He could receive up to 7 1/2 years in prison.
Natividad was killed in November 2001 after a shooting at a Jack in the Box on East Speedway near North Swan Road.
She was a passenger in a car in the drive-thru in the early morning hours when a fight broke out between two groups in the front of the restaurant.
Shots were fired, leaving Alfredo Gonzales, 23, dead.
The driver of the car Natividad was in, Terrence Gooden, drove away rapidly on eastbound Speedway.
LaMadrid, who was friends with Gonzales, grabbed a gun and began firing down Speedway from the roadside.
One bullet hit the windshield of a car without causing injury, Deputy Pima County Attorney Mark Diebolt contended; another crashed through the rear window of Gooden's car and hit Natividad in the head.
Even though Natividad wasn't LaMadrid's intended target, "it was his criminal actions and nothing else that caused her death," the prosecutor argued.
Cooper, however, said police fixated on and refused to consider any evidence that didn't implicate the defendant.
For example, Cooper argued throughout the trial, a second shooting occurred minutes later in a nearby neighborhood.
He tried to link Gooden, Natividad's boyfriend, and another acquaintance to the second shooting incident, suggesting the girl could have been shot then.
Cooper also questioned Gooden's credibility, saying he lied to police about having a gun the night of the killing, and subsequently told stories about what he did with the gun afterward.
In addition, Cooper reminded jurors of testimony from witnesses who said they saw a man with a description different from LaMadrid's firing a weapon at the Jack in the Box.
LaMadrid fled to Mexico for nearly a decade after the shooting. He was found living in Hermosillo, Sonora, and extradited in 2011.
Contact reporter Patrick McNamara at 573-4241 or firstname.lastname@example.org