BY JIM DOOLEY – Surveillance video of the November killing of Kollin Elderts in Waikiki will be sealed from public view at least until July and perhaps later, Circuit Judge Karen Ahn ruled today.
U.S. State Department special agent Christopher Deedy, 28, fatally shot Elderts, 23, during an early morning
altercation inside a Kuhio Avenue McDonalds restaurant.
Deedy has pleaded not guilty to a second-degree murder charge and maintained in court filings that he was acting in his capacity as a law enforcement officer when Elderts was shot.
Deedy was in Honolulu to provide security at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation conference. A resident of Virginia, Deedy is free on $200,000 bail pending trial in the case, now set to begin in September.
His lawyer, Brook Hart, attached a copy of a McDonalds surveillance video to a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that it showed Deedy acted in defense of himself and others in the restaurant.
Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro’s office asked Ahn to seal the the video and related materials, arguing that their public release would create prejudicial publicity and taint prospective jurors in the case.
Ahn sided today with the prosecution.
“Considering the nature of (the tape), the circumstances of the case, the public interest which this case has attracted, and the nature of our public communication capabilities, the release at this time of (the tape) raises a real possibility that the defense/and or the prosecution will suffer an unfair trial,” Ahn ruled.
Hart said today he is taking “a wait and see attitude” toward Ahn’s decision, saying he must discuss the matter with Deedy.
“The judge considered the facts and the law,” he said, adding that the issues will be argued again in a July hearing.
Kaneshiro was pleased with Ahn’s ruling.
“Her order preserves the integrity of the trial process and allows us to continue in a manner that ensures fairness for both sides,” the prosecutor said through spokesman Dave Koga.
“It also supports our position that the issue is not one of withholding information but rather about releasing it at the proper time,” said Kaneshiro.
Attorney Jeff Portnoy, who represented Hawaii Reporter and two other media organizations that argued for public release of the tape, said he was “very disappointed” with the decision.
“I think her analysis was flawed and didn’t give sufficient weight all the various alternatives ( to sealing),” said Portnoy.
The judge expressed special concern about the viral effects video can have in today’s society.
“Photography, moving or stills, can create powerful impressions and, justifiably or not, may be seen by some as carrying some reliability,” Ahn wrote in her decision.
“The internet enables the posting of videos, in their entirety or edited by someone, often a stranger, available to anyone having access to the internet,” Ahn said.
Portnoy and Hart argued to Ahn last week that, if the case does go to trial, defense and prosecution lawyers can screen out potential jurors who have seen the video or formed opinions about the case.
Portnoy said in court last week that his experience has shown that jury selection in previous high-notoriety criminal cases has been carried out with little difficulty.
A full hearing on Hart’s motion to dismiss the case will be held in July. Trial is scheduled in September, although Hart has indicated he will ask for a delay to March 2013.