It was on this day, October 17, 1992, when Hattori-san was a 16-year-old Japanese exchange student originally from Nagoya living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, US for the past two months, was looking for a Halloween party organized in his honour.
The night turned into a horror show.
Arriving in the car of Webb Haymaker, his friend and homestay brother, Hattori-san was dressed up in a tuxedo like John Travolta of the movie Saturday Night Fever.
Unfortunately, they arrived at the wrong address.
The home they did arrive at was similar to their destination and had Halloween decorations outside.
They went up, rang the doorbell, and after a few moments turned around and walked back to the car thinking they had the wrong address.
That's when the door was thrown open and homeowner Rodney Peairs came out with a loaded .44 Magnum revolver.
Peairs pointed his gun at Hattori and yelled "Freeze!"
That's when a bad situation got even worse.
Thinking Peairs had said "Please" Hattori turned and walked towards him saying "We're here for the party."
Haymaker saw the gun and yelled at Hattori to stop.
For whatever reason, Peairs had at that moment, he fired point blank at Hattori hitting him in the chest. The shot ripped through Hattori's left lung and exited the body through the area of the seventh rib.
Peairs ran back inside with his gun.
At this time, Hattori was still alive and was comforted by his friend Haymaker who then ran to a neighbours house for help.
For some reason, it took the police department 40 minutes to arrive. The ambulance too. Hattori died in the ambulance of blood loss.
(Ed. Note: I am unsure if anyone questioned why it took so long for an ambulance or police response to happen - though I am aware an ambulance took 40 minutes to come to my house when my mother suffered a heart attack.)
So... why would a 6'-2" US man shoot an unarmed 130-lb Japanese boy dressed in a white boogie suit who showed no sign of being violent or menacing?
Apparently after Hattori and Haymaker rang the doorbell, Peairs wife peered out the front window and was startled by the two people dressed strangely and yelled to her husband, "Rodney, get your gun!"
At Rodney Peairs' trial, his wife Bonnie testified:
"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."
Her husband did not hesitate or even question her, and ran to their bedroom to get the .44 Magnum with a laser sight as it was the nearest and most accessible gun for him - implying he had at least one other gun on the premises - all legally obtained and licensed.
At the trial, Bonnie Peairs said: "There was no thinking involved. I wish I could have thought. If I could have just thought."
So what happened to Rodney Peairs? At first, Baton Rouge police quickly questioned Rodney Peairs and then released him without charges saying that he had been within his rights to shoot the trespasser.
However, the governor of Louisiana and the New Orleans Japan consulate general then became involved and were able to get Peairs charged with manslaughter.
By the way... did you know what Peairs defense team came up with for his defense against murder? They said Hattori had, and I quote, an "extremely unusual manner of moving." The implication is that Hattori's odd way of mobility (apparently teenage Japanese kids do not walk like human beings, according to this lawyer team (whom no one should ever hire again)—that his way of walking was one which any reasonable person would find "scary" and thus within their right to shoot to kill.
Now... at Peairs' trial, he testified that he thought he saw someone moving quickly from behind a car, so he pointed his gun and yelled: "Freeze!" but that 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."
According to forensic evidence, Hattori was not moving strangely and quickly towards him, rather he was he was moving slowly, or not at all, and his arms were away from his body, indicating he was no threat.
Peairs did offer complete remorse for his actions, but stood by his defense that he had no choice.
The district attorney trying Peairs says: "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."
"You were safe and secure, weren't you?" the district attorney asked 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?"
The trial lasted seven days with the jury talking for only 195 minutes before acquitting Peairs of manslaughter. There is a Louisiana law that allows citizens to use deadly force when protecting themselves or their homes from intruders.
"This trial did not make a lick of sense to me," says Richard Haymaker, Webb's father. The Haymakers were hosting Yoshi through a student exchange program sponsored by the American Field Services.
Hattori was described by the Haymakers a an ideal exchange student, one of three that they had hosted at their home in an upper-middle-class neighborhood of Baton Rouge. Hattori called them mom and dad and occasionally cooked supper for the family. And he had no problem adapting to his new environment. "He was totally open to this country," said Haymaker.
The killing of 16-year-old Yoshi Hattori resulted only in an apology and a promise from Peairs that he would never again use a gun.
Thank goodness we're not done yet. Months after the initial trial, the Hattori family filed a civil suit accusing him of acting with 'no reasonable basis' when he shot their son. Unlike a criminal trial in which the prosecution must prove its case 'beyond a reasonable doubt', in the civil case the plaintiff need only prove their case by a 'preponderance of the evidence.'
This time, the court did state that Peairs was liable for Hattori's death and ordered him to pay US $650,000 in damages and for funeral costs. So... you can use deadly force to protect your home, but you can still be liable for a person's death? Interesting.
Not needing money when their son is dead, the Hattori family set up charities 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.
After the original trial, Japan was enraged with the verdict. The verdict upset them more than the death of the young man, as most had already formed an opinion of the US being a violent country.
That opinion gained a bit more steam, when after the Hattori case, Ito Takuma (surname first), another Japanese exchange student and Japanese-American student, Matsura Go were killed during a carjacking in San Pedro, California. Shortly after that, another Japanese exchange student, Kuriyama Masakazu was shot in Concord, California.
Japan - It's A Wonderful Rife will leave you with this:
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.
Files compiled by Andrew Joseph