By JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER
HONOLULU — The murder trial of a federal agent charged in a Waikiki McDonald’s shooting death has started jury selection. But there’s still uncertainty about where the high-profile case could end up.
State Department Special Agent Christopher Deedy’s attorneys are pushing forward with an appeal to have the case moved from state court to federal court. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments on it in June in Honolulu.
Deedy is accused of killing Kollin Elderts, an Oahu man, in November 2011 while in town for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. A U.S. District Court judge in August denied his motion to have the case moved to federal court and Deedy’s lawyers appealed. Meanwhile, jury selection in state court started this week. The process may take two to six weeks. Trial is slated to open on July 1.
“We really have to proceed on both tracks,” Karl Blanke, one of Deedy’s defense attorneys, said Thursday before the start of jury selection. “While we think our argument is right, we ultimately don’t know how the 9th Circuit will decide.”
If the panel of three randomly assigned judges rules in Deedy’s favor, the case would go back to U.S. District Court, adding another wrinkle in what has already been a long, drawn-out process. The court gets thousands of cases and allows for oral argument based on merit. Each side will have 10 minutes for arguments on June 11 in a Honolulu courtroom.
In a letter to the appeals court, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Donn Fudo said the appeal may be moot because things are moving forward in state court and because Deedy withdrew a motion to dismiss the case because he was acting as a federal law enforcement officer.
Deedy still believes he was acting as a federal officer protecting himself and others at the time of the shooting, even though lawyers withdrew a motion to dismiss the case based on that reason.
Deedy claims he intervened when shooting victim Elderts was harassing a customer with racial slurs.
One of the reasons Deedy’s lawyers argue the case should be moved is that federal court would be in a better position to hear the case in another federal district if Deedy can’t get a fair and impartial jury in Honolulu.