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|Date||October 17, 1992|
|Location||Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S.|
Yoshihiro Hattori (服部 剛丈 Hattori Yoshihiro, November 22, 1975 – October 17, 1992) was a Japanese exchange student who was shot dead while residing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, United States. Hattori was on his way to a Halloween party and went to the wrong house by mistake. The property owner, Rodney Peairs (//), shot and killed Hattori, thinking he was trespassing with criminal intent. The homicide and Peairs' acquittal in the state court of Louisiana received worldwide attention.
Hattori was born in Nagoya, Japan, the second of the three children of Masaichi and Mieko Hattori. He 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.
Two months into his stay in the United States, Hattori and his homestay brother Webb Haymaker received an invitation to a Halloween party on October 17, 1992, organized for Japanese exchange students. Hattori went dressed in a white tuxedo in imitation of John Travolta from the film Saturday Night Fever. At about 8:00 pm Haymaker and Hattori drove to the quiet working-class neighborhood in Central, East Baton Rouge where the party was being held. The two youths mistook the residence of Rodney Peairs (a 30-year-old supermarket butcher) and his wife Bonnie for their intended destination due to the similarity of the address and the Halloween decorations on the outside of the house.
Hattori and Haymaker stepped out of their car and walked to the front door of the house, where they rang the doorbell. Nobody came to the front door, but Bonnie Peairs opened the side door leading to the carport and saw Haymaker standing a few yards away. Haymaker was wearing a neck brace due to a recent injury, and bandages as part of a Halloween costume. He attempted to address Peairs, but she later testified that she panicked when Hattori appeared from around the corner and moved briskly towards her. She slammed the door and told her husband Rodney to get his gun.
Outside, Haymaker inferred that he and Hattori had come to the wrong house. They were preparing to return to their car when Rodney Peairs opened the carport door, armed with a loaded and cocked .44 Magnum revolver. Hattori stepped back towards Peairs, saying, "We're here for the party." Peairs pointed the gun at Hattori and yelled, "Freeze!" Haymaker had caught sight of the firearm and shouted a warning after Hattori, but it is speculated that Hattori – who had limited English and was not wearing his contact lenses that evening – did not understand Peairs' command to "freeze," did not see his weapon, or may even have thought this was part of a Halloween prank. Hattori was holding a camera, which Peairs mistook for a weapon. When Hattori continued moving towards him, Peairs fired his gun at him from a distance of about five feet away, hitting Hattori in the chest, and then retreated back inside the house. Haymaker ran to the home next door for help, returning with a neighbor to find Hattori badly wounded and lying on his back. Neither Peairs came out of their house until the police arrived about 40 minutes after the shooting. Bonnie Peairs shouted to a neighbor to "go away" when the neighbor called for help.
Initially, the local police quickly questioned and released Rodney Peairs, and declined to charge him with any crime because – in their view – Peairs had been "within his rights in shooting the trespasser." Only after Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards and the New Orleans Japanese consul general protested was Peairs 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 Peairs as an "average Joe", a man just like the jury members' neighbors, a man who "liked sugar in his grits".
At the trial, 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." Peairs testified that he shot Hattori once in the chest when the youth was about five feet away. "I felt I had no choice", he said. "I'm very sorry that any of this ever happened."
District Attorney Doug Moreau concentrated on establishing that it had not been reasonable for Peairs, a 6-foot-2-inch tall, 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?"
"Yes sir."[full citation needed]
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", Bonnie Peairs said.
The trial lasted seven days. The jury returned a not guilty verdict after deliberating for approximately three hours.[a]
In a later civil action, however, the court found Rodney 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 Rodney and Bonnie Peairs had acted unreasonably: Bonnie Peairs overreacted to the presence of two teens outside her house; the couple 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. The Peairs appealed the decision, but the Louisiana Court of Appeals upheld the decision in October 1995, and a second appeal to the Supreme Court of Louisiana was rejected in January 1996. Of the total $650,000 judgment, Peairs' insurance company paid $100,000 while Peairs himself was technically left responsible for paying the remaining $550,000.
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 17-year-old 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, Scotland, who got lost on January 7, 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. 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 "[Prime Minister 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, criticized the investigation by the authorities in Houston, saying that there were "many inconsistencies, indeed blatant lies" in the official version of the events.