Thursday, August 14, 2014
HONOLULU (AP) — A jury on Thursday acquitted a federal agent of murder in his second trial for the 2011 shooting death of a man at a Hawaii fast-food restaurant, but they couldn't reach a verdict on other lesser charges.
Nearly a year ago, another set of jurors deadlocked in the case against State Department Special Agent Christopher Deedy, and a judge declared a mistrial.
Judge Karen Ahn later ruled the new jury could consider a lesser charge of manslaughter — an option the previous jury didn't have. The foreman in last year's trial said jurors deadlocked with eight in favor of acquittal and four for conviction. Legal observers blamed the hung jury on the lack of a manslaughter option.
This time, the jury said the shooting wasn't murder, but they couldn't decide if Deedy was guilty of reckless manslaughter, or assault in the first or second degree.
The judge said Deedy could face a third trial on those counts, but defense attorney Thomas Otake said outside court: "We firmly believe there are legal motions we can file to dispose of those charges. ... Our position is enough is enough."
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Janice Futa said she was disappointed with the acquittal and will recommend a third trial.
The family of Kollin Elderts, who was killed, abruptly left the courtroom after hearing the result. They criticized prosecutors last year for not asking for manslaughter, but prosecutors said the evidence didn't support a manslaughter charge.
Ahn said she included it this time in part because the state Supreme Court has since made the law clearer on the issue.
Elderts family spokeswoman Kalama Niheu said the family was devastated and prosecutors didn't do enough to get justice. Futa declined to comment on that criticism.
"Christopher Deedy is a very irresponsible, cowardly individual that took away the heartbeat of our family and forever changed us," Niheu said, reading from a statement. "Because of the poor decisions he made that tragic night, including drinking and walking our Waikiki streets with a loaded personal firearm, we can never forgive him."
Deedy, 30, took the stand at both trials. The Arlington, Virginia, man maintained he acted in self-defense and was trying to protect others from an aggressive Elderts in the Waikiki McDonald's.
Deedy was in town to help provide security for an international economic summit but was off-duty when he shot Elderts, 23.
Much of his testimony at the latest trial was the same as last year's, but this time he was clearer about his intention to kill Elderts, in what seemed like an attempt to avoid a ruling to include reckless manslaughter as an option for jurors.
Deedy said that when he pulled the trigger three times, he intended "to stop the threat, to kill the assailant."
He was fueled by alcohol, power and a warning from a fellow agent about the hostility of Hawaii locals toward government employees and outsiders, prosecutors told the juries in both trials.
The prosecution tried to portray Deedy as drunk and inexperienced. The defense countered that Deedy had only a few drinks and was acting in line with his law-enforcement training when he intervened in a potentially dangerous situation.
Deedy, who went to the McDonald's after a night of bar-hopping with friends, said Elderts was bullying a customer.
Jurors began deliberating Aug. 5. They got some time off as Hawaii braced for Tropical Storm Iselle and Hurricane Julio.
Earlier Thursday, the jurors were brought into the courtroom, and it seemed Ahn was expecting them to say they were deadlocked and that more time wouldn't help, as she made plans with attorneys for declaring a mistrial if necessary. But the forewoman said it was possible they could reach a verdict with more time, so the judge told them to keep deliberating. They returned with their verdict a few hours later.
"Today is just a day where we're relieved. We're relieved that they acquitted him of murder and that they did not convict him of anything," Otake said. "No matter what, there's no winners in a case like this. ... The Elderts, they've lost a loved one."
Follow Jennifer Sinco Kelleher at http://www.twitter.com/JenHapa .