Ten years after a federal agent shot and killed a man during an altercation in a Hawaii fast-food restaurant, Honolulu’s prosecuting attorney announced Monday his office will not seek a third trial in the case.
U.S. State Department Special Agent Christopher Deedy was in Honolulu helping with security for the 2011 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit when he fatally shot Kollin Elderts in a McDonald’s. Deedy was off-duty and bar-hopping with friends when the altercation occurred during his first night in Waikiki.
Deedy testified at two trials that he was protecting others from the aggressive Elderts. Prosecutors have said Deedy was drunk, inexperienced and fueled by warnings from a fellow agent that Hawaii locals are hostile toward federal workers and outsiders.
A 2013 murder trial ended in a hung jury. A second jury in 2014 acquitted Deedy of murder but deadlocked on manslaughter.
A federal appeals court ruled that if prosecutors wanted to try Deedy a third time, it can only be for assault, not manslaughter.
Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm said the evidence presented at the two trials was virtually the same, and a third trial would likely result in another hung jury.
“I have made this decision carefully, after much thought,” Alm said. “And it wasn’t an easy decision, but the job of the prosecutor’s office is to do justice, not win cases.”
Deedy’s attorneys have argued a third trial would violate the U.S. Constitution’s double jeopardy clause.
“I think it hasn’t sunk in yet” for Deedy, who remains employed by the State Department, said his attorney, Thomas Otake. Deedy and his family “went to bed every night the last 10 years wondering if he was going to spend the rest of his life in prison.”
Alm’s predecessor had planned to pursue an assault trial.
Alm said he spoke with Elderts’ family, and they are unhappy because they wanted another trial.
“We believe that an assault conviction would have been possible in this new era in which the murder of George Floyd and the efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement helped reveal a consistent pattern of law enforcement brutality and a belief that they could kill with impunity,” said Dr. Kalamaoka’aina Niheu, spokesperson for the Justice for Kollin Elderts Coalition. “Agent Christopher Deedy stated he acted as an officer of the law, when he really was drunk with a gun. This is a terrible miscarriage of justice, and the family is very upset and so should we all. A killer is walking free.”
Public sentiment toward killings by law enforcement officers may have changed in the past 10 years in other parts of the U.S., but not in Hawaii, Alm said, adding that didn’t factor into his decision.
“So generally, the jurors are likely to give the benefit of the doubt to law enforcement,” Alm said of Hawaii juries.