POSTED: 11:12 a.m. HST, Aug 14, 2014
LAST UPDATED: 04:00 p.m. HST, Aug 14, 2014
The jurors in the retrial of U.S. State Department Special Agent Christopher Deedy unanimously decided Thursday afternoon he was not guilty of second-degree murder in the 2011 death of an Oahu man, but they could not agree on a verdict for lesser charges of manslaughter and assault.
Judge Karen Ahn declared Deedy not guilty of murder based on the jury's verdict, but said he can be retried on the lesser charges. If he is tried again, it will be the third time he will face charges for fatally shooting 23-year-old Kollin Elderts in a Waikiki McDonald's restaurant in the early morning of Nov. 5, 2011.
Ahn scheduled an Aug. 29 hearing to discuss the status of the case.
"The state has had two opportunities, lengthy costly trials ... and has not been able to obtain a conviction. Our feeling is enough is enough," defense attorney Thomas Otake said after the hearing.
Thursday afternoon's verdict came less than three hours after the jurors indicated they could not reach a verdict on some counts and were called back into court. In a short hearing this morning, Ahn asked the forewoman if more time would help and she responded "possibly." Ahn then polled the jury and eight said they agreed with the forewoman and four said they did not agree. Ahn, who looked surprised, then told the jurors to continue deliberations.
However, shortly after 2:30 p.m., the court reconvened and the jury delivered the not guilty verdict for murder. The jurors also told the court that they were deadlocked on the lesser charges of manslaughter, assault in the first degree, assault in the second degree, and use of a firearm to commit a separate felony.
The jury began deliberations on Aug 5, but had a break last Thursday afternoon and Friday because of the threat of Tropical Storm Iselle.
On Aug. 26, the jury in the first Deedy trial deadlocked with eight in favor of acquittal and four voting that Deedy was guilty of second-degree murder. Unlike in this year's trial when the jury could consider the lesser charges, last year's jury had no other option besides the murder charge. Ahn was widely criticized for not allowing the lesser charges last year.
Kalama Niheu, a spokeswoman for the "Justice for Kollin Elderts" coalition, said after the Thursday afternoon hearing that Elderts' family is "utterly devastated by another hung jury and are unable to come forward to say the statement themselves."
Then, she read, "Nothing will ever bring Kollin back to us. We will never hear his contagious laugh, feel his touch, hear his voice or see his future children. The hole in our hearts can never be mended. Christopher Deedy is a very irresponsible, cowardly individual that took away the heartbeat of our family and forever changed us. Because of the poor decisions he made that tragic night, including drinking and walking out on our Waikiki streets with a loaded personal firearm, we can never forgive him. "
Deedy, 30, is a Washington D.C.-based federal agent who was in Honolulu in 2011 to provide security for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference. He was off duty and had been in Honolulu barely 12 hours when he went to the McDonald's after a night out drinking with friends and ended up in a fight with Elderts, who had also been out partying with friends.
Deedy said he approached Elderts to ask him why he was a bothering another customer. The prosecution contended that the federal agent was drunk, had been warned about hostile "locals," and provoked an unnecessary confrontation with Elderts who was not bothering anyone.
Deedy testified that he shot Elderts intending to kill him because the Kailua man continued to attack him even though Deedy identified himself as a law enforcement officer and had produced his gun.
The prosecutor said Deedy did not identify himself as an officer before shooting Elderts.
Deedy also testified he shot Elderts to protect himself and Deedy's college roommate Adam Gutowski from further assault at the hands of Elderts and Elderts' friend Shane Medeiros. Deedy said he was not drunk and showed Elderts and Medeiros his badge and told them he was an officer before the shooting.
The Elderts have a civil lawsuit against Deedy that was put on hold pending the outcome of the criminal prosecution.
Following last year's mistrial, the Hawaii Supreme Court overturned convictions that Ahn had handed down in two previous cases for not providing those juries the option to consider lesser charges.
Deedy opposed giving the jurors in both of his trials any charges to consider other than murder, claiming that he shot Elderts in self defense and in the defense of others.
But in the second trial, Ahn gave the jurors the option, saying that Deedy's own testimony and other evidence presented in the trial could lead the jurors to believe he had been reckless or had been experiencing emotional stress when he shot Elderts.
Star-Advertiser reporter Susan Essoyan contributed to this report.