By JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER
HONOLULU — High-profile attention put on jurors of national criminal trials could be weighing on a Hawaii jury that’s deciding whether a federal agent is guilty of murder, legal experts say.
Jurors began deliberating Aug. 15 in the case against State Department Special Agent Christopher Deedy, who is charged with second-degree murder after he shot and killed a man inside a Waikiki McDonald’s restaurant in 2011.
“Jurors know how closely they’re monitored these days,” in light of recent cases such as George Zimmerman and Casey Anthony, said Claire Luna, senior vice president of Costa Mesa, Calif.-based trial consulting firm Jury Impact. “Jurors know that all their neighbors and friends and family and media in the state are going to be looking at what they do.”
University of Hawaii criminal law professor Kenneth Lawson said that pressure may be fueled by the dynamics of the key players: Deedy, now 29, of Arlington, Va., who was here to help provide security for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, and shooting victim Kollin Elderts, 23, of Kailua, Oahu.
“You have a local person who’s dead you have an out-of-state law enforcement officer,” Lawson said. “If I find this man not guilty, how am I going to go home and hold my head up? How am I going to explain this to my community?”
Deedy testified over three days on the witness stand that he believed he was acting in self-defense and protecting others from an aggressive Elderts, who Deedy claims was harassing a customer. The prosecution has maintained that Deedy was intoxicated, inexperienced and should have simply walked away.
Further complicating the decision for jurors is the all-or-nothing situation of not being able to consider a lesser charge of manslaughter. “It puts those jurors in a battle where there’s no room for compromise,” Lawson said.
Megan Kau, a defense attorney not involved in the case and a former Honolulu prosecutor, said she predicts a hung jury.
But any verdict will spark discussion about what the decision says about Hawaii race relations, she said. Deedy claims Elderts referred to him as a “haole,” the Hawaiian word for white person, in a derogatory way, and the prosecution claims Deedy was primed by a warning from a fellow agent that locals are hostile toward outsiders.
That will not be lost on a local jury, Kau said.
“I think Deedy overreacted based on what someone had told him: locals don’t like haoles,” she said. The jury is “likely looking at whether he was justified in employing deadly force.”
Like every Friday throughout the trial that began July 8, the jury had the day off. They will resume deliberations Monday.
Follow Jennifer Sinco Kelleher at http://www.twitter.com/jenhapa .