A jury on Thursday found U.S. State Department Special Agent Christopher Deedy not guilty of murder in the shooting death of Kailua resident Kollin Elderts.
The 12 jurors, who had been deliberating since Aug. 5, were hung on all of the lesser chargers, which the judge said he could be retried on later.
It was the second time Deedy has been tried on a charge of second-degree murder in the Nov. 5, 2011, incident at a Waikiki McDonald’s. Deedy’s first trial ended in a hung jury nearly a year ago.
The charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Christopher Deedy on the first day of his retrial July 10.
PF Bentley/Civil Beat
Unlike last year, this time Judge Karen Ahn offered jurors the option of convicting Deedy of lesser charges, including reckless manslaughter or extreme mental and emotional distress manslaughter, which carry maximum penalties of 20 years in prison; first-degree assault, which carries a maximum 10-year sentence; and second-degree assault, which carries a maximum five-year-sentence.
The jury entered the courtroom for the first time at 11:15 a.m. Thursday after Ahn discussed the instructions she gave the jurors with attorneys for both sides.
The judge said she has never seen a case in Hawaii that offers clear guidance on what to do if the jury finds a defendant not guilty of one charge but hung on the others.
“This is uncharted territory,” Ahn said, later referring to this “extremely complicated” case as a legal “no man’s land.”
When Ahn asked the jury forewoman if the jury could reach a verdict given more time, she responded, “Possibly.” When polled by the judge, four of the 12 jurors said more time would not help them reach a unanimous decision.
The jurors exited to deliberate further. They returned again at 2:35 p.m. and announced their not-guilty decision and that they were hung on the lesser charges.
A key question discussed at both trials was whether Deedy, 30, was acting as a federal law enforcement officer defending himself and others when he shot the 23-year-old Elderts at the McDonald’s on Kuhio Avenue.
During opening statements at his new trial July 10, Deedy’s Honolulu attorney Thomas Otake repeatedly told jurors that the federal agent was acting under the color of law when he killed Elderts.
Deedy was simply sticking up for his friends and another customer who Otake said were being bullied by Elderts and his friend, Shane Medeiros.
Christopher Deedy, right, walks down the hall of Circuit Court in Honolulu as family members of the man he shot, Kollin Elderts, form a circle to pray before hearing the jury’s decision, Aug. 14, 2014.
Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat
“He did what he had to do,” Otake said. “The evidence will show that he did what he was trained to do.”
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.
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 prosecution said after Deedy arrived 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 Deedy, who was off-duty at the time, should not have been carrying his weapon based on State Department protocol.
The defense argued that Deedy was not under the influence of alcohol when he shot Elderts and was in complete control of his faculties.
Otake said it was Elderts and Medeiros who started a fight with another McDonald’s customer before turning their attention to 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.
The trials included security camera footage taken inside the McDonald’s where the shooting occurred.
That video shows Deedy shoot Elderts. It also shows the fight that happened before any shots were fired. But the footage was of such low-quality it didn’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 left a lot open for interpretation.
A dozen or more family members and friends of Elderts were in the courtroom again Thursday. Some started weeping when the jury announced its decision.
The judge set a status conference for 12:30 p.m., Aug. 29, to discuss with the lawyers how they might proceed on the other charges.
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