Federal agent who killed unarmed Hawaii father will not face trial again

A federal agent who killed an unarmed Hawaiian father during a gun battle on the US state’s Big Island in August 2016 will not face a third trial in the man’s death, the US attorney’s office for the district of Hawaii announced Monday.

The decision to dismiss the charges against William Hanford comes just eight months after a Honolulu jury unanimously found Hanford not guilty of involuntary manslaughter, second-degree murder and first-degree assault in the shooting death of 25-year-old Benjamin Daily.

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“This case is closed,” federal prosecutor Jessica Rosenblum told reporters at a press conference in Honolulu on Monday.

The case had sparked protests and criticism of the US justice system from civil rights activists who said Hanford, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, had simply shot Daily in self-defense. The shooting had spurred the FBI’s biggest operational investigation since 9/11, with more than 1,000 FBI agents and members of the local Honolulu police department – including both an FBI and a federal task force – dispatched to investigate the case.

In the aftermath of the verdict, Justice Department officials said they were reviewing the case to determine whether to prosecute Hanford again for manslaughter, second-degree murder or assault.

The legal action, first reported by CBS News, initially stemmed from accusations from Daily’s family that Hanford shot the man in a different area of the hotel where the couple and their three-year-old son were staying before sundown on 8 August 2016. It is still not clear what triggered the shootout.

Hanford was found not guilty of voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter and assault, but the jury ultimately deadlocked on charges of second-degree murder and murder with premeditation.

Despite cries of grief and outrage from Daily’s family during the trial, defense attorney Craig Cooley argued that the life of a veteran with a military background who’d been an FBI agent for 14 years in addition to serving in the military did not entitle him to protection from prosecution under the “castle doctrine” for a life in which danger is present.

The legal action initially stemmed from accusations from Daily’s family that Hanford shot the man in a different area of the hotel where the couple and their three-year-old son were staying before sundown on 8 August 2016. Photograph: Hawaii County police

Rosenblum said the circumstances of the case differ slightly from those at the second trial.

The second trial “evolved and evolved”, she said, and when the second jury reached its verdict, she didn’t believe the evidence presented would be sufficient to win the case again.

Hanford’s position was substantially different than that of the first jury, which acquitted Hanford of charges of voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter and murder with premeditation. For the second trial, Rosenblum said a judge ruled Hanford could not testify as a witness.

A spokesman for Hanford’s attorney, Craig Cooley, declined to comment. Cooley said in an earlier interview: “I think William is relieved, but very much as a reservist.”

Hanford, also a reservist, has said he did not kill Daily and was acting in self-defense. Prosecutors said Hanford shot Daily twice, first as Daily lay face down with his hands behind his back, and then when Daily reached for his shorts. The defense painted Daily as an erratic drunk who charged out of the hotel after being refused entry, moving and fighting toward the agent.

The US justice department said it was ending the case now because the second trial would “increase the likelihood of a mistrial”.

Since Hanford’s acquittal, the US justice department has also charged former police officer Joseph Caldwell Jr with second-degree murder in connection with the fatal shooting of a homeless man in Oahu in November 2016. Caldwell faces the death penalty if convicted.

Both Hanford and Caldwell are expected to surrender later this month.

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