The retrial of Christopher Deedy, the federal agent who is charged with the second-degree murder of Kollin Elderts on the early morning of Nov. 5, 2011, began today, July 10, 2014.
One of the most high profile and racially-charged trials in Hawaii’s recent history comes after a jury last year was unable to agree on a verdict, resulting in a hung jury and the declaration of a mistrial by Circuit Judge Karen Ahn. The final vote was 8-4 in favor of acquittal.
Deedy, a state department special agent, was in Honolulu to help with security during the 2011 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conferences.
According to prosecutors, another agent warned Deedy shortly after arriving that locals are sometimes hostile to mainlanders and newcomers; Deedy told the agent he planned to carry his gun with him.
On the evening of Nov. 4, Deedy made plans with two friends to go out drinking in Chinatown and Waikīkī. Text messages to his friend Adam Gutowski show that Deedy told him there would be “craziness.”
By the end of the night, Deedy, Gutowski and their friend Jessica West ended up in the McDonalds on Kuhio Avenue.
Elderts was also out that night partying, drinking and smoking marijuana in celebration of the birthdays of two friends. He also ended up in the Kuhio Street McDonalds not long after Deedy, with his friend Shane Medeiros.
Six minutes after entering McDonalds, Elderts was shot dead by Deedy.
What happened that night can be seen on silent and choppy surveillance video from McDonalds, though the story is portrayed very differently by the defense and prosecution.
The defense says Deedy was acting in self-defense and identified himself as a federal agent, while the prosecution says that there was no reason for Deedy to have gotten involved with Elderts in the first place.
The prosecution said that Deedy had seen Elderts and Medeiros joking around at the counter with the cashiers and a customer, Michel Perrine. Perrine, who was drunk, ignored Elderts and Medeiros.
While Elderts was sitting at the table waiting for his food, the defense says Deedy went up to Elderts and told him to leave Perrine alone. The prosecution says that Deedy did not identify himself as an agent, while the defense says that he did.
The situation escalated into a fight, with Gutowski, Medeiros, Deedy and Elderts all involved until it ended, after three shots were fired by Deedy, one resulting in the death of 23-year-old Elderts.
The prosecution says Deedy was breaking the law by drinking while armed and should not have had his firearm, while the defense maintains that while Deedy had been drinking that night, he knew his limits.
The mistrial was announced on Aug. 26, 2013.
What Will Be Different This Time
In the days leading up to the new trial, Judge Karen Ahn ruled that the defense can’t say, as they had previously, that Elderts was high on cocaine, only that the presence of cocaethylene was found in his eyes, which the body produces when alcohol and cocaine mix.
The jury won’t be shown part of the McDonalds surveillance that shows Deedy giving Elderts CPR, and the defense won’t be allowed to show evidence that Elderts had a previous disorderly conduct conviction in 2008.
These rulings are favorable to the prosecution, and experts say the prosecution has the advantage coming into the new trial as they will be able to streamline their argument and not use strategies that didn’t work in the first trial.
Deedy also has a new lead attorney, replacing Brooke Hart with Thomas Otake.