It has been more than five years since Christopher Deedy fatally shot Kollin Elderts at a Waikiki McDonald’s.
In that time, we have seen two trials of Deedy but very little clarity as to what exactly transpired between the two men that evening.
Deedy, a U.S. State Department agent from the mainland, has insisted Elderts, a local resident, was drunk and violent and that he shot Elderts in self defense and to protect others in the room. But the prosecution says it was Deedy who was drunk — and trigger-happy.
Deedy’s two trials tried to uncover which version of the story is closer to the truth, but neither succeeded. In 2013, the jury was hung on the charge of second-degree murder; manslaughter wasn’t on the table then. In 2014, he was acquitted of second-degree murder and the jury deadlocked on lesser charges of manslaughter and assault.
Now, the Hawaii Supreme Court is considering whether or not the Honolulu prosecutor can pursue a third trial against him, this time focusing principally on manslaughter charges.
It’s an interesting question, both legally and morally. A new trial, it could be argued, may finally deliver justice. Deedy has remained in a kind of judicial purgatory, after all — his culpability seesawing on Lady Justice’s scales. A clear verdict either way could finally end this very public saga.
But how likely is that? There is no new evidence, as far as we know, and no new information to present. Two juries have come down against murder — the first deadlocked 8-4 in favor of acquittal and the second rejected the charge outright.
People can argue forever over whether Deedy should have stepped into the middle between Elderts and another McDonald’s customer who Elderts had been harassing. And there’s also the issue of whether police officers should be permitted to carry guns if they have been out drinking. Deedy was off-duty at the time.
But, if he was — as he says — attempting as a law enforcement officer to diffuse a problem, is he guilty of manslaughter?
It’s hard not to feel like the cards are stacked against Deedy, as if the city is going to keep dragging him back to court until it can get something — anything — to stick. Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro has been outspoken about what he sees as another instance of the federal government interfering in Hawaii’s business.
By forcing Deedy to face a third criminal trial, it would seem Kaneshiro is simply trying to make an example out of Deedy, no matter the cost.
Deedy’s defense lawyer, Thomas Otake, has argued that a third trial would constitute double jeopardy.
“The court found there wasn’t any evidence,” Otake said of Judge Karen Ahn’s initial decision regarding a manslaughter charge. “That’s what double jeopardy’s about. They don’t get another shot at this.”
Whether or not the double jeopardy argument holds up (Deedy has never been acquitted or convicted of manslaughter), a third trial would certainly cause some of the same negative repercussions that the double jeopardy rule tries to eliminate. Namely: That the government can’t take advantage of its superior resources to wear someone down, and that individuals have the right to be protected from the financial, emotional and social consequences of multiple prosecutions.
The prosecution has had two chances already to present its evidence and make a case against Deedy. It has devoted more than five years and countless resources to the effort. It has so far failed to make a convincing argument.
No matter what the Supreme Court decides, the Elderts family can still pursue its civil case against Deedy. Attorney Michael Green is representing the family and is itching to get on with it.
We’re not convinced Kaneshiro and his prosecutors deserve another chance, given the decisions of two juries that aptly reflected the diverse ethnic makeup of our multicultural state. And that’s not to mention the cost to the taxpayers.
It’s time to lay this case to rest.
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