A mistrial declared Monday in the seven-week Christopher Deedy murder trial sets the stage for a rematch that could see many of the same arguments play out again if a new jury is selected next summer.
Deedy, a U.S. State Department special agent who was in Honolulu for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, was accused of shooting and killing 23-year-old Kailua resident Kollin Elderts in a Waikiki McDonald’s on Nov. 5, 2011.
He faced a second-degree murder charge as well as a felony weapons count in what became a high-profile case that involved ethnic tensions in Hawaii, questions about on-duty alcohol consumption and whether a killing should be justified under the state’s self defense law.
Jurors deliberated for six days before unanimously deciding they were deadlocked.
Looking ahead, it’s hard to imagine that the issues will be any different.
Much of the armchair quarterbacking has centered on the prosecution’s decision not to give the jury the option of convicting on a lesser charge of manslaughter. But Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Janice Futa reiterated to reporters after the verdict Monday that the evidence for manslaughter just wasn’t there.
“The prosecution agrees with the court that there was no evidence to support that charge,” Futa said. “There being no evidence (of manslaughter), that was an inappropriate charge.”
She also said the prosecutor’s office, headed by Keith Kaneshiro, did not consult with Elderts’ family on whether to proceed with the manslaughter option, saying there was “no reason.”
Deedy’s attorney Brook Hart said his view of the case has not changed. He still believes the facts show his client was acting as a law enforcement officer and in self defense when he shot Elderts in the chest with his 9mm Glock 26 pistol.
“Agent Deedy is not guilty, pled not guilty, is not guilty and the jury did not find him guilty,” Hart said. “He has another day in court to deal with these charges. We’ll have an opportunity then to put his position forward.”
That position has always been that Deedy was sticking up for McDonald’s customer Michel Perrine, who was being picked on by Elderts and his friend, Shane Medeiros.
When Deedy approached Elderts and told him he was a federal agent, the defense contended that Elderts got upset and attacked the federal agent, therefore being the first aggressor in the fight and bolstering the argument of self defense.
The prosecution on the other hand had always maintained that Deedy was controlled by “alcohol, inexperience and the unmitigated power of a gun.”
Hart also said Monday that he believed the jury should have deliberated longer, although the long-time Honolulu defense attorney didn’t provide any specifics.
“We did not agree there was manifest necessity for declaring the mistrial,” Hart said. “We thought that certain circumstances might have evolved so that the jurors could reach a decision. But obviously they’re the only ones who know what their situation was and we must respect it.”
Deedy was unavailable for comment after the hearing, and exited the courtroom through a side door.
The federal agent’s trial was filled with a lot of drama, and not just because of the gravity of the charges.
Jury selection took weeks due to the publicity surrounding the case and the idea that Deedy might not be able to get a fair trial in Hawaii because he is a white federal cop from the mainland.
The much-discussed surveillance video that Judge Karen Ahn sealed in pre-trial proceedings also didn’t provide the answers everyone once speculated it would. In fact, it was soundless, jumpy and, based on the hung jury, appears to have been of little use in determining culpability in the case.
Honolulu’s police officers who were involved in the investigation also came under fire during the trial. One admitted on the witness stand that he lost an evidence camera that had photos from the crime scene. Another posted potentially biased comments on his Facebook page even though he testified in the case.
Some odd moments occurred during Monday’s proceedings, too. Attorneys met with Ahn in the morning before the jury had announced it was stalemated. At that time white paper was taped over the courtroom windows to block views from the outside.
The paper once again went over the windows when Ahn cleared spectators and the media from the courtroom to talk with the prosecution and defense in private before the jury entered to declare its impasse.
Ahn did not provide any explanation. Hart and Futa also declined to say why the courtroom proceedings were sealed.
Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest attorney Brian Black said it was troubling that Ahn didn’t announce why she was closing the court to the public, noting that open courts are a fundamental part of democracy.
“It is well established that the press and the general public have a First Amendment right to be present for a criminal trial,” Black said. “It is unsettling that a judge may have closed the courtroom to the public without making specific, on the record findings to justify closure as required by U.S. Supreme Court precedent.”