HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A federal judge has ruled a U.S. State Department special agent who fatally shot a man inside a Waikiki McDonald's in 2011 cannot be tried a third time.
U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson handed down the decision Friday morning in the Christopher Deedy case, overruling a state Supreme Court conclusion that a third trial could proceed.
By Friday afternoon, the city Prosecutor's Office said it would appeal the ruling to the 9th Circuit Court.
"This case involves the unjustified killing of Kollin Elderts, a young Hawaii man," the office said, in a statement. "It is our moral and ethical obligation to pursue all legal remedies."
Meanwhile, members with the group Justice For Kollin Elderts rallied outside of 'Iolani Palace on Friday, expressing disbelief that a new trial wouldn't proceed and anger over how prosecutors had handled the case from the start.
"This killer is going to walk free on a technicality," said Kalama Niheu, of the group. "We condemn the incompetence of the prosecutors office. This appeal would not be necessary if they had taken care of this the way that the should have."
In his ruling Friday, Watson agreed with Deedy's attorneys that a third trial amounted to double jeopardy and called for the case against the agent to be dismissed. Deedy's first trial ended in a mistrial, and he was acquitted of second-degree murder during a second trial, in which the jury was deadlocked.
The surprising and key finding in Watson's ruling was that Deedy was also actually acquitted of manslaughter by Judge Karen Ahn during his first trial, when she decided that the jury would not be given the option.
Watson wrote: "The Court determines that double jeopardy bars further prosecution in the state courts because the Circuit Court acquitted Deedy of reckless manslaughter."
Manslaughter would have required the jury to find that Deedy acted recklessly in shooting 23-year-old Kollin Elderts during an altercation inside the McDonald's.
And Niheu, of Justice For Kollin Elderts, said there was plenty of evidence for a jury to convict Deedy of manslaughter. In fact, she said, Elderts' family urged prosecutors to consider the charge.
In his second trial, the jury was given manslaughter as an option along with murder. That jury found Deedy not guilty of murder, but could not agree on the manslaughter charge.
Watson said in the first trial, Ahn should have instructed the jury about a possible manslaughter verdict, even though both the prosecutor and the defense argued that manslaughter should not be an option.
He said Ahn was required by law to let the jury consider manslaughter anyway.
"Notwithstanding this obligation, at Deedy's first trial, the Circuit Court declined to instruct the jury on lesser included offenses, including reckless manslaughter, because the evidence was insufficient to do so. The circuit court declared, 'I don't think there's any evidence to support manslaughter,'" Watson wrote.
Ahn has since retired from the bench.
In a news conference Friday, Deedy attorney Thomas Otake said Watson's ruling is a relief for his client.
"We're obviously thankful for this ruling and relieved that, hopefully, all this is coming to an end," Otake said. "It's been a long seven years."
The 2011 shooting happened when Deedy was in Hawaii for the APEC summit, and he argued he shot Elderts in self-defense.
But prosecutors said he was drunk and instigated the confrontation. And city Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro has said pursuing a manslaughter charge against Deedy in a third trial is a matter of justice.
Deedy still works for the State Department and remains free on bail.
This story will be updated.