A U.S. special agent standing trial for killing a Kailua man in a Waikiki McDonald’s appears to be raising his defense fund through a crowdfunding campaign, similar to those launched by aspiring filmmakers, activists and entrepreneurs who need a financial nudge to get their projects off the ground.
A group calling itself “Support Chris Deedy” has raised nearly $13,000 for the federal agent’s defense through the website IndieGoGo, which is similar to Kickstarter in that it allows people to donate funds to a particular cause or startup venture.
The group had a goal of raising $50,000 by a Feb. 20 fundraiser deadline. It only made it a quarter of the way with 109 financiers.
For some, crowdfunding can be a lucrative way to raise money. On Kickstarter, more than $5.7 million has been pledged to help the producer of the short-lived TV show “Veronica Mars” make a movie of her exploits.
IndieGoGo’s top funded campaign was started by a nonprofit that aims to built a Nikola Tesla museum in New York. So far it’s pulled in $1.3 million.
“Support Chris Deedy” describes itself as “friends and professional associates of Special Agent Deedy” who are interested in raising money to help him with what they describe as a “deadly force situation.”
“An incident like Chris’ could happen to any law enforcement officer — local, state or federal — but we can’t set a precedent for the future if Chris can’t afford to fight his battle right now,” the group’s website says. “Please help Chris prove that police officers, troopers and special agents shouldn’t be charged as murderers when they stand up to defend the public and themselves.”
An attempt to reach “Support Chris Deedy” on Monday was unsuccessful.
Deedy works in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security at the U.S. State Department. He was in Honolulu for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November 2011 as part of a diplomatic security detail when he encountered Kollin Elderts at a McDonald’s on Kuhio Avenue in the early morning hours of Nov. 5.
Court records say the two scuffled inside the restaurant. Deedy then drew his weapon and shot the 23-year-old Elderts in the chest, killing him. He was arrested by the Honolulu Police Department and has been charged with second-degree murder.
The prosecution and defense are at odds over who was the aggressor in the fight and whether Deedy was acting as a law enforcement officer in defense of himself and others.
Opening arguments in Deedy’s trial are scheduled to begin July 1. Jury selection began Monday, and is expected to last for four to six weeks in part due to the extent of the pre-trial publicity.
The shooting made national headlines. APEC was just about to begin with thousands of delegates and their families in Honolulu. After the shooting, protestors marched through Waikiki decrying Elderts’ death at the hands of a federal agent. His family filed a lawsuit.
All the attention led to public debate about the motivations behind the killing and the racial undertones beneath it. Deedy is a white federal agent from the mainland who killed a local man of mixed ethnicity.
The case became even more high profile locally when Hawaii Circuit Court Judge Karen Ahn refused to release a surveillance video from McDonald’s of the shooting that Deedy’s attorney Brook Hart had tried to submit into the court record.
Under most circumstances, information contained in court files is publicly available as a matter of course. But Deputy Prosecutor Janice Futa argued that releasing the video would taint a potential jury pool.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and other media outlets joined the legal action to get the video released.
Ahn sided with the prosecution, saying the video would eventually be submitted into evidence and publicly available but that the potential impacts to prospective jurors were too great.
On Monday, Ahn, Futa and Hart spent hours grilling potential jurors about the media attention surrounding the case. Of the nearly 150 people who showed up for jury duty only seven said they hadn’t heard anything about the case. The rest would have their biases tested through questioning.
Most questions directed at the jurors regarded what they remembered from the various media reports about the shooting and whether they could set that aside to be fair and impartial.
It’s anticipated this process will take at least until the end of the week. After that the jury pool will continue to be narrowed.
The website for “Support Chris Deedy” provides updates on the trial and links to fundraising statistics. It also includes smiling photos of the federal agent as well as a detailed biography of his life, from childhood through the time he was hired in 2009 at the State Department, noting his temporary tours of duty in which he escorted U.S. diplomats in Baghdad, Iraq and Benghazi, Libya.
All this is an attempt to get donations for Deedy’s defense, the website says. “Being charged with a serious crime such as murder can be crippling financially.”
The site compares Deedy’s case to that of U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent Will Clark, who faced murder charges after killing a man in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The website says it cost the U.S. Department of Justice $875,000 to defend Clark for three years, adding that Deedy’s case “could easily cost $1 million.”
Deedy is not being represented by State Department attorneys in the case. The agency has performed an investigation into the shooting. Officials could not say Monday whether that investigation has been completed.