Death of Yoshihiro Hattori
|Date||October 17, 1992|
|Location||Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S.|
|Part of a series on|
Yoshihiro Hattori (服部 剛丈 Hattori Yoshihiro?, November 22, 1975 – October 17, 1992) was a Japanese exchange student residing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, United States, at the time of his death. Hattori was on his way to a Halloween party and went to the wrong house by accident. The property owner, Rodney Peairs, shot and killed Hattori, thinking he was trespassing with criminal intent. The controversial homicide, and Peairs's subsequent acquittal in the state court of Louisiana, received worldwide attention.
Hattori's early life
Born in Nagoya, Japan, to Masaichi and Mieko Hattori, Yoshihiro was 16 years old when he went to Baton Rouge as part of the American Field Service (AFS) student exchange program; he had also received a scholarship from the Morita Foundation for his trip. He was the middle child between a brother and a sister, and was described as a gregarious teen who played on his high school rugby team and loved fishing.
Two months into his stay in the United States, he received an invitation, along with Webb Haymaker, his homestay brother, to a Halloween party organized for Japanese exchange students on October 17, 1992. Hattori went dressed in a tuxedo in imitation of John Travolta from Saturday Night Fever. Upon their arrival in the quiet working-class neighborhood where the party was held, the boys mistook the Peairs' residence for their intended destination due to the similarity of the address and the Halloween decorations on the outside of the house, and proceeded to step out of their car and walk to the front door.
Hattori and Haymaker rang the front doorbell but, seemingly receiving no response, began to walk back to their car. Meanwhile, inside the house, their arrival had not gone unnoticed. Bonnie Peairs had peered out the side door and saw them. Mrs. Peairs, startled, retreated inside, locked the door, and said to her husband, "Rodney, get your gun." Hattori and Haymaker were walking to their car when the carport door was opened by Mr. Peairs. He was armed with a loaded and cocked .44 magnum revolver. He pointed it at Hattori, and yelled "Freeze." Simultaneously, Hattori, stepped back towards the house, saying "We're here for the party." Haymaker, seeing the weapon, shouted after Hattori, but Peairs fired his weapon at point blank range at Hattori, hitting him in the chest, and then ran back inside. Haymaker rushed to Hattori, badly wounded and lying where he fell, on his back. Haymaker ran to the home next door to the Peairs' house for help. Neither Mr. Peairs nor his wife came out of their house until the police arrived, about 40 minutes after the shooting. Mrs. Peairs shouted to a neighbor to "go away" when the neighbor called for help. One of the Peairs' children later told police that her mother asked, "Why did you shoot him?"[this quote needs a citation]
The criminal trial of Rodney Peairs
Initially, the local police quickly questioned and released Mr. Peairs, and declined to charge him with any crime. They felt that "Peairs had been within his rights in shooting the trespasser." It was only after Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards and the New Orleans Japanese consul general protested that Mr. Pearis was charged with manslaughter. His defense was his claim that Hattori had an "extremely unusual manner of moving" that any reasonable person would find "scary", and emphasis on Mr. Peairs as an "average Joe", a man just like the jury members' neighbors, a man who "liked sugar in his grits".
At the trial, Mr. Peairs testified about the moment just prior to the shooting: "It was a person, coming from behind the car, moving real fast. At that point, I pointed the gun and hollered, 'Freeze!' The person kept coming toward me, moving very erratically. At that time, I hollered for him to stop. He didn't; he kept moving forward. I remember him laughing. I was scared to death. This person was not gonna stop, he was gonna do harm to me." Mr. Peairs testified that he shot Hattori once in the chest when the youth was about five feet away. "I had no choice," he said. "I want Yoshi's parents to understand that I'm sorry for everything."[this quote needs a citation]
District Attorney Doug Moreau concentrated on establishing that it had not been reasonable for Mr. Peairs, a 6-foot-2, well-armed man, to be so fearful of a polite, friendly, unarmed, 130-pound boy, who rang the doorbell, even if he walked toward him unexpectedly in the driveway, and that Peairs was not justified in using deadly force. Moreau stated, "It started with the ringing of the doorbell. No masks, no disguises. People ringing doorbells are not attempting to make unlawful entry. They didn't walk to the back yard, they didn't start peeking in the windows."[this quote needs a citation]
"You were safe and secure, weren't you?" Moreau asked Mr. Peairs during his appearance before the grand jury. "But you didn't call the police, did you?"
"No sir." Peairs said.
"Did you hear anyone trying to break in the front door?"
"Did you hear anyone trying to break in the carport door?"
"And you were standing right there at the door, weren't you - with a big gun?"
"I know you're sorry you killed him. You are sorry, aren't you?"
"But you did kill him, didn't you?"
Mr. Peairs testified in a flat, toneless drawl, breaking into tears several times. A police detective testified that Peairs had said to him, "Boy, I messed up; I made a mistake."
The defense argued that Mr. Peairs was in large part reacting reasonably to his wife's panic. Mrs. Peairs testified for an hour describing the incident, during which she also broke into tears several times. "He was coming real fast, and it just clicked in my mind that he was going to hurt us. I slammed the door and locked it. I took two steps into the living room, where Rod could see me and I could see him. I told him to get the gun." Mr. Peairs did not hesitate or question her, but instead went to retrieve a handgun with a laser sight that was stored in a suitcase in the bedroom, which he said "was the easiest, most accessible gun to me."[this quote needs a citation]
"There was no thinking involved. I wish I could have thought. If I could have just thought," Mrs. Peairs said.
The trial lasted seven days. After the jurors deliberated for three and a quarter hours, Mr. Peairs was acquitted.
The civil trial
In a later civil action (95 0144 (La.App. 1 Cir. 10/6/95), 662 So.2d 509), however, the court found Mr. Peairs liable to Hattori's parents for $650,000 in damages, which they used to establish two charitable funds in their son's name; one to fund U.S. high school students wishing to visit Japan, and one to fund organizations that lobby for gun control. The lawyers for Hattori's parents argued that the Peairs' had behaved unreasonably: Bonnie Peairs overreacted to the presence of two teens outside her house; the Peairs' behaved unreasonably by not communicating with each other to convey what exactly the threat was; they had not taken the best path to safety—remaining inside the house and calling police; they had erred in taking offensive action rather than defensive action; and Rodney Peairs had used his firearm too quickly, without assessing the situation, using a warning shot, or shooting to wound. Furthermore, the much larger Peairs could likely very easily have subdued the short, slightly built teen. Contrary to Mr. Peairs' claim that Hattori was moving strangely and quickly towards him, forensic evidence demonstrates that Hattori was moving slowly, or not at all, and his arms were away from his body, indicating he was no threat. Overall, a far greater show of force was used than was appropriate. Out of the total compensation, only $100,000 has been paid by an insurance company.
After the trial, Peairs told the press that he would never again own a gun.
The Japanese public were shocked not only by the killing, but by Peairs' acquittal. Shortly after the Hattori case, a Japanese exchange student, Takuma Ito, and a Japanese-American student, Go Matsura, were killed in a carjacking in San Pedro, California, and another Japanese exchange student, Masakazu Kuriyama, was shot in Concord, California. Many Japanese reacted to these deaths as being similar symptoms of a sick society; TV Asahi commentator Takashi Wada put the feelings into words by asking, "But now, which society is more mature? The idea that you protect people by shooting guns is barbaric."[this quote needs a citation]
One million Americans and 1.65 million Japanese signed a petition urging stronger gun controls in the US; the petition was presented to Ambassador Walter Mondale on November 22, 1993, who delivered it to President Bill Clinton. Shortly thereafter, the Brady Bill was passed, and on December 3, 1993, Mondale presented Hattori's parents with a copy.
Suspicions of implicit racism in the acquittal of Rodney Peairs further gained traction when, shortly afterwards, a homeowner named Todd Vriesenga, inside his house in Grand Haven, Michigan, similarly shot and killed a 17-year-old named Adam Provencal through the front door. Vriesenga received a 16- to 24-month term for "reckless use of a firearm resulting in death", causing both Japanese and Asian-American advocacy groups to speculate on whether the difference between Vriesenga's conviction and Peairs' acquittal was related to the race of the victims. Other groups publicly stated that Vriesenga should have been convicted of the more severe charge of felony manslaughter.
Shortly afterwards was the similar case of Andrew de Vries, from Aberdeen in Scotland, who got lost on 7 January 1994 after drinking with American friends in Houston, Texas. He knocked on a back door of a house asking for directions, and was shot by the householder through the closed door of the house. The householder, Jeffrey Agee, was not indicted, and later settled for an undisclosed sum a substantial claim by de Vries's widow Alison. De Vries's mother complained to the press of a lack of support from the UK Government, saying "[The Prime Minister, Mr. Major] doesn't want to rock the boat when it comes to the United States. People should be aware that if they become innocent victims of crime in Texas they cannot expect help from the Government, the Foreign Office or the British Consulate." The de Vries family's Member of Parliament, John McAllion, criticised the investigation by the authorities in Houston, saying that there were "many inconsistencies, indeed blatant lies," in the official version of the events.
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- Associated Press report of the trial
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