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After a day of opening arguments in the Christopher Deedy murder trial one thing is apparent: much of the case will rest on a choppy surveillance video and the perceptions of jurors.
Deedy is a U.S. State Department special agent who was in Honolulu in November 2011 as part of a diplomatic security detail for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
In the early morning hours of Nov. 5, he was in a Waikiki McDonald’s with friends where he encountered 23-year-old Kollin Elderts, of Kailua. The two men exchanged words and started to fight. Deedy fired three rounds from the semi-automatic Glock 26 he had taken out on the town with him.
One hollow-point bullet struck Elderts in the chest, killing him. Cause of death was a loss of blood.
The fact that Deedy was the shooter is not at issue in the case. Both the prosecution and defense agree that the federal agent is the man who pulled the trigger.
But both sides are asking jurors to determine who the aggressor was and whether Deedy was acting in self defense when he decided to shoot Elderts.
What makes these difficult questions for jurors to answer, however, is that much will rely on a surveillance video from the fast-food restaurant that — if you ask the opposing attorneys — shows two very different accounts of what happened.
Deedy’s attorney, Brook Hart, says it’s clear in the video that his client was only doing what was needed to protect himself and others when he tussled with Elderts. Hart described Elderts as a menacing bully, and said that his client only fired his weapon after Elderts attacked Deedy and tried to take his gun.
“Agent Deedy acted responsibly in self defense as a federal agent when he did what he did on Nov. 5, 2011,” Hart told the jurors Monday. He later added that “as a federal agent it’s his job to protect and serve the community.”
But Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Janice Futa described Deedy in a much different light, naming all of the bars the federal agent visited in Chinatown and Waikiki before ultimately killing Elderts in the Kuhio Street McDonald’s.
She said in her opening remarks that Elderts, who was also out drinking with friends, is dead because Deedy was infused with “alcohol, inexperience and the unmitigated power of a gun.”
“Kollin Elderts, big voice, distinctive, raspy laugh, happy, joking and very much alive went to a McDonald’s in Waikiki,” Futa said. “Within six minutes of him getting there he was shot and he died.”
The two attorneys gave such widely varying accounts of what happened the night Elderts was killed that it raises questions about how much certainty the surveillance video will actually provide to jurors when they finally get to watch it.
The video has no sound, meaning Hart and Futa will have to bolster their arguments with testimony from eyewitnesses.
But Futa said there are conflicting stories about who said what during the altercation. That was also apparent during the opening statements when she said Deedy threatened to shoot Elderts in the face; Hart described his client as a cool and collected officer of the law.
Futa also told jurors that the video doesn’t provide a continuous flow of action. It’s essentially a series of snapshots that are taken from different angles from within the restaurant. The timing gap gives the video a strobe-like effect, she said.
“What you get is kind of a herky-jerky, old-time film quality,” Futa said. “It’s frustratingly fuzzy.”
This isn’t the first time the McDonald’s surveillance video has been at the center of controversy. Last year, Hart tried to submit images from the video as supporting evidence for a motion to dismiss the case against his client.
But before the public could get access to those images prosecutors convinced Judge Karen Ahn, who is presiding over the trial, to seal the records to protect a potential jury pool. This decision resulted in a court battle that saw the local media side with Hart in an effort make the video public.