HONOLULU - The high-profile murder trial of a federal agent charged with shooting a man in a Waikiki McDonald's is set to begin when attorneys deliver opening statements today.
State Department Special Agent Christopher Deedy, charged with second-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a separate felony, is likely to testify, his defense attorneys said. The trial could include testimony from more than 100 potential witnesses, according to lists from the prosecution and the defense.
Deedy, 29, of Arlington, Va., was on temporary duty assignment in Honolulu for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November 2011. He is accused of shooting Kollin Elderts, of Kailua, inside the McDonald's restaurant Nov. 5. Elderts, 23, died of a single gunshot wound to the chest.
The trial could delve into Hawaii's racial tensions, which have been alluded to in court papers describing what Deedy claims happened during the early-morning altercation. The defense claims that Deedy intervened when Elderts was harassing a customer with racial slurs, and Elderts then threatened Deedy, calling him "haole," in a derogatory way.
Even if that was true, it didn't justify murder, said Michael Green, the attorney representing Elderts' family in a civil lawsuit.
Karl Blanke, part of the Deedy defense team, argued before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month that the case should be moved from state court to federal court because publicity about racial issues could hinder a fair trial. The defense believes that in addition to Deedy being an employee of the U.S. government, federal court would be in a better position to move the case to another federal district if he can't get a fair and impartial jury in Honolulu.
Prosecutors say Deedy took too long to ask for the move to U.S District Court and that publicity about racial issues hasn't risen to the level that requires a different venue.
Blanke asked the appeals panel for an expedited decision, and the defense is holding out hope for a last-minute ruling. Absent a ruling, Deedy is prepared to proceed in state court, Blanke said.
"We have to be prepared to go full bore," he said. "We just anticipate moving forward."
During a recent hearing, Circuit Judge Karen Ahn ruled that a bystander's cellphone video of the scene after the shooting can be introduced during the trial. The video shows that Deedy was acting in his capacity as a federal law enforcement officer and had "no bad intent," Blanke said.
"He immediately rendered aid," Blanke said. "He did everything he could to stop the bleeding. He acted completely consistent with his training."
Deedy claims he acted in self-defense and was protecting others. He's free on $250,000 bail.
"It's been a long, long road. He's doing well," Blanke said. "He's held up extremely well under all the pressure that he's been facing."