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Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Christopher Deedy: The Federal Agent Tried for Murder

     On November 4, 2011, 27-year-old Christopher Deedy, a U. S. State Department Special Agent from Arlington, Virginia, was in Hawaii as a member of the State Department's Diplomatic Security unit. Deedy and the other federal agents were in Honolulu to protect Hilary Clinton and President Obama at the upcoming Asian Pacific Economic Conference scheduled for November 7 through November 13.

     On the night of November 4, Agent Deedy and a couple of his friends were bar-hopping in the city. At 2:30 the following morning the off-duty agent, dressed in shorts, flip-flops and a dress shirt that covered the 9 mm Glock pistol on his hip, was having coffee at a McDonalds. Kollin K. Elderts, a 23-year-old Hawaiian man who had been arrested in 2008 for disorderly conduct, and in 2010 for driving under the influence, was giving a white McDonalds customer he didn't know a hard time. Elderts called this man, Michael Perrine, a "haole," a Hawaiian word used by the locals as a racial slur against Caucasians of European decent. Perrine, who had been minding his own business, said he didn't understand why Elderts was singling him out for this verbal abuse. "I'm a local, too," he said. "I live here."

     Agent Deedy walked over to Elderts' table and asked him why he was picking on Mr. Perrine. Mr. Elderts did not appreciate the interference. Angry words escalated into a physical confrontation. What happened next depended upon who was telling the story. The only facts not in dispute were these: Agent Deedy and the Hawaiian man fought. At some point in the confrontation the agent pulled his gun and fired three shots. One of the bullets hit and killed Mr. Elderts.

     The Honolulu coroner retrieved a single bullet from Elderts' body. Detectives dug two slugs out of a McDonald's wall. The autopsy report revealed that Kollin Elderts had recently consumed marijuana and cocaine. He also had a blood-alcohol level of 0.12, a percentage well above the state's legal limit for driving.

     Not long after Mr. Elderts' death a state grand jury in Honolulu indicted agent Deedy for second-degree murder. Assistant deputy prosecutor Janice Futa choose not to include, as a backup charge, the lesser offense of manslaughter. That meant it was second-degree murder or nothing. 
Christopher Deedy posted his $250,000 bail and returned to Virginia to await his trial.

      Mr. Elderts shooting death exacerbated racial tensions in Hawaii. The local media compared the killing of an unarmed man of color by a white man with the Treyvon Martin case that was unfolding at the time in Florida. According to narrative created by reporters and correspondents in the print and television media, Treyvon Martin had been killed by a wannabe cop; Elderts had been shot to death by a federal law enforcement officer. For Christopher Deedy the timing was not helpful.

     The Deedy murder trial got underway in a Honolulu courtroom in mid-July 2013. Circuit Court Judge Karen Ahn oversaw the selection of seven men and five women for the jury. Six of the jurors were of Hawaiian decent. The other members of the jury were Caucasian. Prosecutor Futa, with the defendant's wife and parents looking on, delivered her opening statement to the jurors. In the prosecution's version of the facts Deedy's first shot missed Mr. Elderts. The second shot, fired before the two men fell to the floor and fought, killed the victim. The defendant's third shot missed.

     In describing her theory of the case, Prosecutor Futa said, "The defendant...draws from his right hip area the gun. Kollin [Elderts] turns around and sees him and the defendant is within three feet of Kollin Elderts and fires his gun. He misses Kollin. Now having been shot at by the defendant, Elderts lunges toward him reaching for the gun. They grapple in front of the [McDonalds] counter and [another] shot rang out. After the shots, Kollin falls on top of the defendant onto the floor. The third bullet was fired. After the third bullet was fired, the gun jams."

     In her opening statement, the prosecutor portrayed Christopher Deedy as an inexperienced agent (George Zimmerman was a wannabe cop) who had consumed alcohol against State Department policy while carrying a firearm. Deedy had "stuck his nose" in the situation at McDonalds "that was not his business." Futa informed the jurors that the McDonald surveillance videotape of the incident was "frustratingly fuzzy."

     The defense version of the shooting differed from the prosecution's theory. According to the defense, it was the third shot, fired when the two men were fighting on the floor, that killed Mr. Elderts.

     Defense attorney Brook Hart, in addressing the jury, said, "The evidence will show that the defendant used a number of measured steps to try to sway Mr. Edlerts...from his violent assault. Referring to Elderts' racial slur, Hart said, "These are now fighting words. This is a threat of violence. This is what Deedy is trained to respond to, although he wasn't here to respond to the laws of harassment or bullying. He's a federal agent and his job is to serve the community." (His job was to protect Clinton and Obama.)

     According to the defense attorney, when the defendant showed Elderts his State Department badge and credentials, Elderts said, "What, you gonna shoot me? You got a gun? Shoot me. I'm gonna gut you."

     Attorney Hart informed the jurors that the State Department authorizes its agents to carry weapons when they are off-duty. She said that her client, on the night of the shooting, was not intoxicated.

     As in the Treyvon Martin case where George Zimmerman's head injuries proved valuable to the defense, Attorney Hart pointed out that Agent Deedy's nose had been broken and his face badly pummeled. In summing up, the defense attorney said, "Special Agent Deedy was compelled to discharge his gun resulting in the death of Elderts. Agent Deedy acted responsibly and in self-defense."

     On August 6, 2013, following 18 days of prosecution testimony, attorney Hart put the defendant on the stand. Agent Deedy testified that on the night in question Mr. Elderts had drawn his attention with his "hysterical laughing" and taunting of Mr. Perrine. When Elderts ignored the McDonalds cashier's request to leave Mr. Perrine alone, Deedy walked over to Elderts' table and asked him what was going on. Sounding a bit self-important, the witness said, "From my trained perspective I believed it was appropriate for me to intervene, to further assess the situation because this was not a mutual interaction going on."

     When Agent Deedy interceded on Mr. Perrine's behalf Mr. Elderts called him a "haole." According to the witness, "I needed to portray a stronger command presence." This is when he identified himself as a federal law enforcement officer. (The surveillance footage shows Deedy displaying his badge and credentials.) Not impressed, Mr. Elderts continued to taunt the agent. When Elderts slid out from behind his table, the agent knew there would be trouble. In describing this moment to the jury, Deedy said, "I think I was in actual shock. This was very quick, there was a lot going through my head. My brain was going in a thousand directions."

     Attorney Hart asked her witness, "Why didn't you just leave the restaurant?"

     Deedy answered that because he was a trained law enforcement officer, he couldn't responsibly back down. "I injected myself into the situation because I sensed the propensity for violence. For me at this point to run would be irresponsible."

     Agent Deedy described to the jury how he had tried to disable Elderts with a kick to his left shin. He missed and hit the meaty part of his opponent's thigh. At that moment the agent knew he was in for a fight. When his attacker tried to grab his gun the defendant said he had no choice but to utilize deadly force in defense of his life.

     The defense rested after three days of the defendant's testimony. The case went to the jury on August 15, 2013. On Monday, August 19, the jury foreman advised Judge Ahn that the panel could not reach an unanimous verdict. Judge Ahn declared a mistrial. The defendant was free to accompany his wife and his parents back to Virginia. His second trial was set for the spring of 2014.

     Following the verdict, prosecutor Futa told reporters that she was "very disappointed." She said she didn't regret not giving the jury the manslaughter option. Defense attorney Hart, in speaking to the press, said that her client "pleaded not guilty and is not guilty. "The jury," she said, "did not find him guilty."

     Because the jury did not acquit agent Deedy he was not home free. Not only that, Kollin Elderts' family sued him for wrongful death. Even if Christopher Deedy was eventually acquitted, he would have been better off calling the police and walking out of McDonalds that night.

     At his second trial in 2014, jurors found Deedy not guilty of murder but deadlocked seven to five in the defendant's favor on the manslaughter charge.

     When the prosecutor ordered a third trial, Christopher Deedy appealed on the grounds of double jeopardy. In December 2017 the Hawaii Supreme Court rejected the defendant's double jeopardy claim. Deedy's attorneys appealed that decision to the (federal) 9th Court of Appeals which ruled that Mr. Deedy, under the double jeopardy doctrine, could not be re-tried for manslaughter. Prosecutor Futa appealed that decision to the United States Supreme Court.
     In June 2020 the Supreme Court declined to hear the Deedy case. That meant the appellate court decision would stand. Following that decision a spokesperson for the Honolulu Prosecutor's Office announced that Mr. Deedy's case had been closed.  

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