Judge unseals transcripts in Deedy murder case

Published: Feb. 27, 2014 at 7:10 PM HST
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Christopher Deedy
Christopher Deedy
Circuit Judge Karen Ahn
Circuit Judge Karen Ahn
Attorney Brook Hart
Attorney Brook Hart
Prosecutor Janice Futa
Prosecutor Janice Futa

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Closed court proceedings in the mistrial of federal agent Christopher Deedy reveal defense lawyers pushed to have a juror questioned and possibly replaced after he was seen shaking hands with someone who appeared to know one of the families involved.

29-year-old Christopher Deedy will be re-tried for murder later this year in the 2011 shooting death of Kollin Elderts at a McDonald's in Waikiki.

According to court transcripts that were unsealed Tuesday, the jury foreman raised concerns a juror may be "a friend of a friend of one of the sides" after noticing the juror shaking hands in the hallway with someone who was seen sitting with a family in the courtroom and later seen having lunch with the same family.  Whether the family in question was the Deedy's or Elderts' was redacted from the documents, along with the identity of the juror.

According to the 63-page transcript, the juror was questioned about the incident twice on the final day of jury deliberations.  The juror explained he had previously worked with the man whose hand he was seen shaking about seven years ago, but didn't know his last name.  He told Circuit Judge Karen Ahn he never interacted with the man again and did not notice if he was present in the courtroom during the trial.  He also asserted he was capable of being an impartial juror.

Deedy's defense team pushed to have the juror in question replaced with an alternate, but transcripts reveal Judge Ahn sided with state prosecutors who argued the juror's explanation did not "rise to the level of substantial prejudice" and would not affect his judgment in the case.

"Given the nature of the allegations and what's at stake, someone's life, I would've thought that she would have erred on the side of caution and that juror should have been excused," explained criminal defense attorney Myles Breiner.

"It's kind of hard to excuse a juror when they're telling you -- look, this has nothing to do with the case.  I knew the guy from working with him.  I only know his first name.  I don't know his last.  And I just said, 'Hi'.  That's not enough to get a juror excused," said Kenneth Lawson, a Criminal Law Professor at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. 

Judge Ahn made the call not to replace the juror, and she also chose to close the court proceedings and seal the transcripts.

"I'm disappointed the transcript took this long to be disclosed.  This is something the public should've been made aware of a long time ago," Breiner said.

Lawson agrees.  "I think the hearing could have been held in private, should have been held in private, I just don't think the public should've been locked out of the courtroom," Lawson said.

Jeff Portnoy represented Hawaii News Now and the Star Advertiser in a lawsuit over the sealed transcripts.

"Hawaii News Now brought a writ to the State Supreme Court hoping to get the Supreme Court to order Judge Ahn to release transcripts of the closed hearings and also to get the Court to rule that Judge Ahn violated the Constitution when she held closed hearings and subsequently sealed the transcript without giving the public through the media an opportunity to be heard on whether there was a legitimate reason to close the courtroom and seal the transcript -- that case is still pending before the Supreme Court but what happened today is an intermediate step," explained Portnoy.

Portnoy says the public and the media have a Constitutional right to know what happened in that courtroom.

"These transcripts should have been released immediately, upon the decision by the jury that they could not reach a verdict and the jury was discharged.  As anyone who spends the time to read through the transcript will know, it was a very manini issue.  It could have no impact on the parties or any subsequent jurors.  It was an isolated matter that had nothing to do with evidence or something that could potentially prejudice a subsequent trial," Portnoy said.

"People did not have to wait six months to speculate on why the judge had three closed hearings the last day of that trial, particularly in a trial of this magnitude," explained Portnoy.

Special Agent Deedy was charged with second-degree murder for the shooting death of 23-year-old Kollin Elderts during a scuffle in a Waikiki McDonald's on Nov. 5, 2011. Deedy, who was in Honolulu for the A.P.E.C. meetings, claimed he shot the Kailua man in self defense. Deputy prosecutor Janice Futa argued that Deedy was drunk the night of the shooting and instigated the confrontation.

Jurors told the judge they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict after 20 days of testimony and more than five full days of deliberations.  Hawaii News Now spoke with the jury foreman after the mistrial was announced and he reports eight jurors voted not guilty, while four jurors voted to convict Deedy of murder.

Jury selection in Deedy's retrial begins in June.   

Read the unsealed transcripts:

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