Shooting of Yoshihiro Hattori

Shooting of Yoshihiro Hattori
Yoshihiro Hattori in San Francisco.jpg
Hattori in San Francisco
Date October 17, 1992
Location Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Accused Rodney Peairs
Charges Manslaughter
Verdict Not guilty

Yoshihiro Hattori (服部 剛丈, Hattori Yoshihiro, November 22, 1975 – October 17, 1992, often referred to as Yoshi Hattori[1]) was a Japanese student on an exchange program to the United States who was shot to death in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He was on his way to a Halloween party and went to the wrong house by mistake. Property owner Rodney Peairs (/prz/)[2] fatally shot Hattori, thinking that he was trespassing with criminal intent. The shooting and Peairs' acquittal in the state court of Louisiana received worldwide attention.

Hattori's early life

Hattori was born in Nagoya, Japan, the second of the three children of Masaichi Hattori, an engineer, and his wife Mieko.[3] He was 16 years old when he went to Baton Rouge in August 1992 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 hosted as a homestay student in Baton Rouge by Richard and Holley Haymaker (a college professor and physician, respectively), and their teenage son, Webb.[4]

Fatal incident

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, that had been organized for Japanese exchange students. Hattori went dressed in a white tuxedo in imitation of John Travolta's character in the film Saturday Night Fever. At about 8 p.m., Haymaker and Hattori drove to the neighborhood in East Baton Rouge where the party was being held. The two youths mistook the residence of Rodney Peairs, a 30-year-old supermarket butcher,[5] 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.[6][7]

Hattori and Haymaker 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.[2]

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 .44 Magnum revolver. Hattori stepped back towards Peairs, saying, "We're here for the party." Peairs pointed the gun at him and yelled, "Freeze!" Haymaker had caught sight of the firearm and shouted a warning after Hattori,[8] but Hattori had limited English and was not wearing his contact lenses that evening, and it is possible that he did not understand Peairs' command to "freeze",[9] did not see his weapon,[2] or might even have thought that this was part of a Halloween prank.[10] Hattori was holding a camera which Peairs mistook for a weapon.[9] Hattori continued moving towards Peairs; Peairs fired his gun at him from a distance of about 5 feet (1.5 m) away, hitting him 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. The Peairs did not come 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.[2]

The shot pierced the upper and lower lobes of Hattori's left lung and exited through the area of the seventh rib; he died in an ambulance minutes later from loss of blood.[7]

Criminal trial of Rodney Peairs

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".[3] Only after Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards and the Japanese consul general in New Orleans 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".[11]

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 5 feet (1.5 m) away. "I felt I had no choice", he said. "I'm very sorry that any of this ever happened."[2]

District Attorney Doug Moreau concentrated on establishing that it had not been reasonable for Peairs, a 6 feet 2 inches (1.88 m) tall, armed man, to be so fearful of a polite, friendly, unarmed, 130 pounds (59 kg) 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.

A police detective testified that Peairs had said to him, "Boy, I messed up; I made a mistake."[12]

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 [Hattori] was coming real fast towards me", she testified. "I had never had somebody come at me like that before. I was terrified." 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.[2]

"There was no thinking involved. I wish I could have thought. If I could have just thought", Bonnie Peairs said.[10]

The trial lasted seven days. The jury returned a not guilty verdict after deliberating for approximately three hours.[a] Courtroom spectators broke into applause when the verdict was announced.[9]

Civil trial

In a later civil action, however, the court found Rodney Peairs liable to Hattori's parents for $650,000 in damages,[13] 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.[14] 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 perceived 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.[3] The Peairs appealed the decision, but the Louisiana Court of Appeals upheld the decision in October 1995,[8] and a second appeal to the Supreme Court of Louisiana was rejected in January 1996.[15] 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.[16]


After the trial, Peairs told the press that he would never again own a gun.[17] A 2013 source reported that he had lost his home and his supermarket job and was living in a trailer park.[16]

The Japanese public were shocked by the killing and by Peairs' acquittal.[18] Hattori's parents and his American host parents, the Haymakers, went on to become active campaigners for gun law reform in the United States.[19][20] In November 1993 they met with President Bill Clinton, who was presented with a petition signed by 1.7 million Japanese citizens urging stronger gun control. A petition signed by 120,000 American citizens was also presented to Congress.[21] The Hattoris and the Haymakers lent their support to the Brady Bill (originally introduced into the House of Representatives in 1991), which mandated background checks and a five-day waiting period for the purchase of firearms in the U.S.[22] It was signed into law by President Clinton on November 30, 1993 as the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act.[23] According to Walter Mondale, then U.S. ambassador to Japan, who presented Hattori's parents with a copy of the Act on December 3, 1993,[24] Hattori's death "had a very definite impact on passage of the Brady bill."[25][b]

In 1997, filmmaker Christine Choy released a documentary film about Hattori's death called The Shot Heard Round The World.[27]

See also