Prosecutors who failed to secure a murder conviction after two trials are unjustly trying to get any conviction against a federal agent who shot and killed a man in a Waikiki fast-food restaurant, the agent’s lawyer argued before the Hawaii Supreme Court today.
Putting State Department Special Agent Christopher Deedy through a third trial would be double jeopardy, said defense attorney Thomas Otake.
Deedy was in Hawaii for the 2011 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting. After bar-hopping with friends on his first night in Waikiki, he fatally shot Kollin Elderts during an altercation in a McDonald’s. Deedy testified at two trials that he was protecting others from an aggressive Elderts. Prosecutors say Deedy was drunk, inexperienced and fueled by warnings from a fellow agent that Hawaii locals are hostile toward federal workers and outsiders.
The first trial in 2013 trial ended in a hung jury. After a second trial about a year later, jurors acquitted Deedy of murder but weren’t able to reach a verdict on manslaughter.
Prosecutors “completely and wholeheartedly abandoned” manslaughter with comments made in court and to the media that finding Deedy guilty of murder is the only possible verdict, Otake said.
Judge Karen Ahn ruled the second jury could consider a lesser charge of manslaughter — an option the first jury didn’t have.
She later denied defense motions that would have prevented another trial for manslaughter and Otake appealed.
Deputy Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Donn Fudo said prosecutors never abandoned the lesser offenses. There needs to be justice in the case of a “drunk tourist” who killed a man, he said.
“This is someone who was supposed to be an individual that protects people with his weapon not shoots them dead at a McDonald’s in the early morning,” Fudo said.
Elderts was attacked for being Native Hawaiian and for using the word “haole,” which can mean white person, said Kalamaokaaina Niheu, a spokeswoman for the group, Justice for Kollin Elderts, said outside the courtroom.
Elderts parents couldn’t bear to attend the hearing after having to relive his killing during two trials, Niheu said. She said the case is another example of “militarization of police” across the country.
She criticized prosecutors for not heeding the family’s wishes and including manslaughter in the first trial.
It’s not clear when the justices will issue a ruling.
Deedy, of Arlington, Virginia, remains free on bail and on restricted employment duty. He didn’t attend today’s hearing.