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Testimony turns to race

Witnesses recount the use of slang in events preceding the fatal shooting of Kollin Elderts

By Ken Kobayashi and Sarah Zoellick

LAST UPDATED: 6:25 p.m. HST, Jul 31, 2013

Racial overtones surfaced during State Department special agent Christopher Deedy's murder trial Thursday with testimony from a McDonald's restaurant customer who supposedly was racially harassed and a fellow agent who testified that he told Deedy some "locals" don't like mainlanders.

Michel Perrine was the customer who, according to the defense, was bullied by Kollin Elderts to trigger a chain of events that led to Elderts' death in the 2011 shooting at the Waikiki fast-food restaurant.

Perrine testified he had been drinking and doesn't remember his exchange with Elderts, other than Elderts saying "haole."

Ben Finkelstein, a State Department agent who arrived in Hono­lulu on the same flight as Deedy to provide security for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference held here, said he talked to Deedy about "haoles" and "locals" and cautioned him to stay away from certain places at night.

Finkelstein said Deedy told him he would be armed.

Early the next morning on Nov. 5, 2011, the off-duty Deedy and Elderts got into an altercation at the McDonald's restaurant on Kuhio Avenue that ended with the agent fatally shooting Elderts in the chest.

Deedy, 29, who was here to provide security for the international conference, is charged with second-degree murder and a related firearm charge in the shooting, which happened at about 2:45 a.m.

Elderts was a Kailua resident.

The prosecution contends that Deedy was driven by alcohol and inexperience when he fired the fatal shot, one of three the agent fired. Deedy's defense is that he fired in self-defense to ward off Elderts, who had become angry after the agent checked to see if Perrine was all right.

Perrine took the stand on the trial's fourth day and was the first witness to testify about what he saw and heard at the restaurant.

Currently a resident of Washington state, Perrine said he had been living here for less than two months before the shooting.

Perrine didn't know either Elderts or Deedy, and said he drank three shots of tequila and a pitcher of beer before he went to the fast-food restaurant on his way home.

He acknowledged his memory of the events is spotty.

He testified he did not feel threatened, "shrugged off" Elderts' comments, walked away and didn't feel a need for any help.

Perrine said he remembers Deedy going to Elderts' table and that the two started talking.

"I tried not to pay attention as much as possible," he said. "I didn't want to be involved any more than what I already was."

Perrine said he saw Deedy and Elderts grappling and the agent falling to the floor.

He said he remembers seeing the agent lift his shirt and that he saw a holster and gun.

"It was scary," he testified.

He said he doesn't remember hearing gunshots and didn't know anyone was shot until afterward.

"I can see somebody standing up and saying something, but to shoot somebody — I didn't see a reason for that," he testified.

Finkelstein, who said he was Deedy's friend, testified he didn't think Deedy was armed when they went out shopping before their talk the afternoon of Nov. 4, 2011.

The agent testified he told Deedy that Hawaii is a beautiful place and that a vast majority of the people are friendly, but said some people he described as "locals" dislike federal government agents and mainlanders.

Finkelstein said he also distinguished the word "haole" from "f—— haole," which he likened to a highly derogatory racial slur.

Deedy went to Chinatown that night for First Friday festivities and ended up early the next morning at the McDonald's restaurant.

According to the defense, Elderts told Deedy during the confrontation, "F— you, haole."

On Thursday, Circuit Judge Karen Ahn unsealed the McDonald's surveillance video recording of the altercation and shooting.

Deedy's defense filed the recording with the court last year, but Ahn granted the prosecution's request to keep the video sealed until the trial. In doing so, the judge overruled objections by the defense and the news media, which argued court filings are public and should not be kept confidential.

Ahn said the release would lead to pretrial publicity that might taint prospective jurors and jeopardize rights to a fair trial.

Parts of the video were shown to the jury this week and are likely to be replayed as both sides focus on images they think will help their case.

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