Mistrial in Hawaii for US agent accused of murder
- Article by: JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER
- Associated Press
- August 26, 2013 - 10:35 PM
HONOLULU — A judge declared a mistrial Monday after jurors said they couldn't unanimously decide whether a federal agent is guilty of murder in the early-morning shooting of a customer at a McDonald's restaurant in Waikiki.
Hawaii 1st Circuit Judge Karen Ahn polled the jurors after the jury foreman said more time would not resolve the impasse in the trial of State Department Special Agent Christopher Deedy. All the jurors, who began deliberating Aug. 15, agreed they could not reach a verdict.
Ahn set a hearing for Friday to determine a date for a new trial, after mentioning possibilities next spring.
"Mr. Deedy does need to go back home and back to work," defense attorney Brook Hart told the judge.
Deedy, 29, of Arlington, Va., is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Kollin Elderts, 23.
Deedy hugged his lawyers after the mistrial was declared. Hart said Deedy told him, "I love you, you did a good job."
Elderts' family left without commenting to reporters, and a bailiff said jurors declined to speak with the media.
"My reaction is Agent Deedy is not guilty, pled not guilty, is not guilty," Hart told reporters outside of court. "The jury did not find him guilty."
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Janice Futa's reaction: "Very disappointed."
Jurors were not given the option to consider a lesser charge of manslaughter. Futa said there are no regrets about not asking for manslaughter and that it's not likely prosecutors will request it next time around.
"Not unless there's new evidence that comes out that supports that charge," she said.
Michael Green, the lawyer representing Elderts' family in a civil suit against Deedy, said he spoke with Elderts' stepmother after the mistrial.
"It's a feeling of extreme depression, shock sadness," Green said. "We talked about the possibility of a hung jury as soon as there was no manslaughter instruction given."
The shooting occurred while Deedy was in Honolulu to help provide security for an economic summit in November 2011. He was off-duty when he went to the fast-food restaurant after a night of bar-hopping with friends.
Prosecutors depicted Deedy as an inexperienced agent who was intoxicated and defensive after being warned about the hostility of Hawaii locals toward outsiders.
Deedy, however, testified that he was protecting himself and others by intervening when he saw Elderts harassing another customer. Deedy said he fired his gun while Elderts was on top of him throwing punches.
Elderts and his friend, Shane Medeiros, were at McDonald's after a night celebrating the birthdays of friends. A fight began, with Deedy and his friend Adam Gutowski against Elderts and Medeiros.
During closing arguments, Futa called Deedy a "bully with a badge," telling jurors Elderts, of Kailua, was killed because Deedy interjected himself in a situation that wasn't any of his business and refused to back down.
Defense attorney Karl Blanke acknowledged that Deedy shot and killed Elderts but said it wasn't murder. Deedy's "intent was to protect life," Blanke said in his closing argument.
The defense painted Elderts as a hothead who had been drinking heavily and doing drugs. Elderts referred to Deedy as a haole — a Hawaiian term for a white person — in a derogatory way, the defense claimed.
Deedy spent three days on the witness stand, telling jurors Elderts became enraged when he showed him his credentials and identified himself as a law enforcement officer. Deedy testified that he told Elderts to freeze and that he would shoot when he saw Gutowski being kicked in the head.
At one point, Deedy lay on the courtroom floor to demonstrate that he fired while Elderts was on top of him.
Other witnesses over 20 days of testimony included the friends who were with Deedy and Elderts and various bystanders. The customer who Deedy claimed was being harassed said he never felt threatened but doesn't remember much of the exchange because he was drunk.
Much of the trial involved witnesses describing various frames from silent, choppy surveillance footage from the restaurant. A bystander's cellphone video showed Deedy trying to render aid to Elderts.
Those images were especially difficult for the Elderts family to watch, Green said.
"They had to see all the gory details," he said. "Now they have to wait another year to relive this."
The family believes Elderts was murdered, Green said. "They didn't want manslaughter, they wanted murder," he said. "But they needed closure. They wanted the jury to have an opportunity to decide the verdict with every alternative possible. That would be better than him waking out of the building with nothing."
The trial began July 8 and was packed every day with spectators, including family members from both sides, reporters, and members of the public interested in the drama. Ahn repeatedly warned spectators not to make facial expressions or comments while the jurors were in the courtroom.
Deedy's family, including his parents and his wife, were present throughout the trial. They're "trying to wrap their arms around the notion he's still a free man," Hart said, adding that he doesn't know when Deedy and his family will leave Hawaii. "He's still an agent of the United States State Department and has a job to do."
Before the mistrial was declared Wednesday, Ahn unexpectedly cleared the courtroom's spectators for a few minutes without providing a reason. Attorneys on both sides declined to say what was discussed.
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