Jury Acquits Man Who Shot Japanese Youth : Crime: Panel deliberates only 3 hours before clearing Louisiana man. Victim’s father will push drive to limit availability of guns in U.S.


The supermarket butcher who mistakenly shot a 16-year-old Japanese exchange student was found not guilty Sunday of manslaughter in a case that reinforced Japanese images of America as a savage and paranoid place.

“I’m very sorry,” said Rodney Peairs, 32, visibly shaken and crying in the courtroom moments after the 12-member jury announced its unanimous verdict. Peairs’ manslaughter trial has riveted the attention of people in Japan and raised anew questions here about the abundance of guns and their use in defending home and property. Outside the courtroom, Peairs said he would not use guns again.

Peairs shot Yoshi Hattori with a .44-caliber Magnum after the youth mistakenly arrived at Peairs’ house looking for a Halloween Party last Oct. 17. Peairs testified that Hattori appeared to him as a grinning, potentially crazed intruder who was brandishing a weapon and refused to stop when Peairs yelled, “Freeze!”


In reality, Hattori was dressed as John Travolta was in “Saturday Night Fever” and was carrying only a camera. It is unclear whether Hattori understood what Peairs meant by the command to freeze.

Peairs’ wife, Bonnie, testified that she was frightened by Hattori’s appearance and his statement: “We’re here for the party.” Bonnie Peairs testified that she screamed, slammed the door and yelled to her husband to get his gun.

East Baton Rouge Parish Dist. Atty. Doug Moreau told jurors that Peairs’ character was not on trial--many described him as a good worker, husband and father--but that his behavior was wrong.

Peairs, he said, is in denial and his attorney is trying to blame “everybody else in this entire world but the person responsible. What we have here is the apparently dangerous and violent act of ringing the doorbell.”

The jury apparently disagreed, returning its not guilty verdict in less than three hours.

Spectators applauded, but bailiffs quickly quieted them.

After hearing the verdict, the victim’s father, Masaichi Hattori, said he was saddened but hoped that Americans would respond to his petition drive to limit the availability of guns in the United States. Hattori and others have collected 1.2 million signatures in Japan.

The case was billed as a collision of cultures.

“We Japanese don’t understand the gun society of America,” reporter Yoshito Okubo said. “And we don’t understand why this man had so much fear that he would shoot a boy.”

Another Japanese correspondent, Shinsuke Tanaka, said, “In America, when the police pull you over, you keep your hands on the wheel” so they won’t shoot you. In Japan, Tanaka said, “even a policeman firing his gun at a criminal is top news--even if he doesn’t hit him.”