U.S. State Department special agent Christopher Deedy is back on trial for the Nov. 5, 2011, shooting death of Kollin Elderts, but many of the same questions remain from the last time he took the stand.
Primary among them is whether Deedy was acting as a federal law enforcement officer defending himself and others when he shot the 23-year-old Elderts at a Waikiki McDonald’s.
During opening statements at his new trial Thursday, Deedy’s Honolulu attorney Thomas Otake repeatedly told jurors that the federal agent was acting under the color of law when he killed Elderts.
Christopher Deedy during opening statements of his 2014 murder trial.
PF Bentley/Civil Beat
Deedy was simply sticking up for his friends and another customer who Otake said were being bullied by Elderts and his friend, Shane Medeiros.
“He did what he had to do,” Otake said. “The evidence will show that he did what he was trained to do.”
But Honolulu prosecutor Janice Futa argued otherwise. She said Deedy, who was in town as part of a security detail for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, was “fueled by alcohol” when he shot Elderts, who was from Kailua.
Additionally, she told jurors, Deedy had been “primed” by a co-worker that Hawaii locals could be hostile to people from the mainland and he had an “imbibed sense of entitlement because of his job.”
The arguments are nearly identical to those presented the first time Deedy stood trial. That one lasted seven weeks and ended in ended in a hung jury on Aug. 26, 2013.
The jurors were split on whether Deedy should be convicted of second-degree murder or cleared because he was a law enforcement officer acting in self defense, and they didn’t have the option of considering a lesser charge of manslaughter.
Defense attorney Thomas Otake during his opening statement to the jury on the first day of the Christopher Deedy re-trial in Honolulu on July 10, 2014.
PF Bentley/Civil Beat
After the mistrial Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro defended his decision to pursue the murder charge, saying the facts supported the decision. He also stuck up for Futa, who handled last year’s case, calling her “an excellent trial attorney.”
Deedy again has been charged with second-degree murder.
Much of the case will revolve around the events leading up to Deedy and Elderts’ chance meeting at McDonald’s.
The prosecution plans to show the jury that after Deedy landed in Honolulu he met up with his college friend, Adam Gutowski, and Gutowski’s then-girlfriend, Jessica West, to go out drinking.
Futa described a series of events in which the three bar-hopped around Waikiki and Chinatown for First Friday before ultimately going to McDonald’s, where she contends the federal agent instigated a fight with Elderts.
She said she intends to prove that Deedy, who was off-duty at the time, should not have been carrying his weapon based on State Department protocol.
The defense, on the other hand, will argue that Deedy was not under the influence of alcohol when he shot Elderts and was in complete control of his faculties.
Otake said the evidence will also show that it was Elderts and Medeiros who started a fight with another McDonald’s customer before turning their attention on Deedy and his friend, who were trying to intervene.
Deedy identified himself as a law enforcement officer by flashing his badge before the physical confrontation erupted, Otake said.
Prosecutor Janice Futa during the opening statements of Christopher Deedy’s murder trial July 10, 2014.
PF Bentley/Civil Beat
After the opening statements Thursday, the prosecution called its first witness, Maile Goodhue, a friend of Elderts who was among several people with him that evening. Asked about Elderts’ behavior in light of his drinking, Goodhue said that Elderts was acting normal, walking and talking without difficulty.
“He was fine,” Goodhue said. “Nothing out of the ordinary.”
On cross-examination, the defense honed in on the fact that Goodhue said she was not with Elderts the entire night and therefore she could not completely account for his behavior, how much he drank or what drugs he could have taken.
Ultimately the case may hinge on security camera footage taken inside the Kuhio Avenue McDonald’s where the shooting occurred.
That video shows Deedy shoot Elderts. It also shows the fight that happened before any shots were fired. The problem is the footage is of such low-quality it doesn’t provide many definitive answers as to what actually happened.
Rather than a constant stream, the footage is a series of snapshots taken one to three seconds between shots. The images are highly pixelated and there’s no sound, which makes it impossible to verify who said what and when.
Add to this the fact that many of the witnesses inside the McDonald’s were drunk, and it leaves a lot open for interpretation, similar to the first trial.
Breana Milldrum contributed to this report.
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