Shooting Trial Haunts ‘Small Town’ of Hawaii
Every day, a phone call, news story or piece of paperwork takes Merry Lynn Balatico back to the day a gunman calmly pushed open the doors of a Xerox Corp. warehouse, sought out Balatico’s husband, five co-workers and their supervisor, and shot them, one by one.
Much of what happened in a conference room of that warehouse Nov. 2, 1999, has been left to Balatico’s imagination--until now.
On Monday, copier repairman Byran Uyesugi goes on trial for the seven slayings, and Balatico, a 33-year-old mother of two, will force herself to listen as prosecutors paint a detailed and bloody portrait of her husband’s death.
Uyesugi’s attorneys are seeking acquittal by reason of insanity. They don’t dispute that he was the gunman, but they contend he suffers from delusions and can’t distinguish between right and wrong.
“In my heart, a true judgment comes from God, not here,” Balatico said. “So I’m not putting all my hopes and faith in this one trial.”
But she said the proceedings “will uncover anything that I don’t know, and that will help me with closure.”
Uyesugi, 40, faces one count of first-degree murder for the multiple killings, seven counts of second-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in the second degree for allegedly shooting at an eighth man, who escaped.
If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison; Hawaii does not have the death penalty.
If acquitted by reason of insanity, he could be confined to the state psychiatric hospital in Kaneohe.
Prosecutors say Uyesugi, a 15-year Xerox employee, shot his co-workers with a Glock 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun as they were gathering for a meeting to discuss Uyesugi’s light workload. He fled the scene in a company van, but surrendered peacefully later that day after a five-hour standoff.
The shootings tore through this close-knit island community, which has one of the lowest violent crime rates in the nation.
“It’s a big small town, and so it doesn’t take too many steps to find an immediate connection with one of the families of the victims,” said University of Hawaii criminologist Meda Chesney-Lind. “There’s that way in which the whole community was kind of co-victimized.”
The Honolulu Police Department says Uyesugi admitted on a 1994 gun permit application that he had previous mental problems and was told the application could not be processed without a doctor’s note saying he was mentally fit to own firearms.
Uyesugi never produced the note.
The former high school sharpshooter legally owned 11 handguns, five rifles and two shotguns, which he apparently acquired before he made the disclosures on the 1994 permit.
Uyesugi was convicted of drunken driving in 1985. He also attended a two-week anger management course to erase a criminal property damage charge for kicking an office elevator door in 1993.
James Kauwe Jr., who attended technical school with Uyesugi in the 1970s, described him as “just another guy” who was devoted to his friends and wanted to have a family.
“He was a good friend--one of those I count on one hand,” Kauwe said.
Three court-appointed examiners said Uyesugi suffered from schizophrenia and delusions of persecution, but that he knew right from wrong.
Defense attorney Jerel Fonseca declined to say how he will characterize Uyesugi’s mental state during the trial, which could take a month.
City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle, whose wife worked for Xerox for 20 years, said he doubted an insanity defense would hold up, noting the gunman’s apparently calm and deliberate actions.
“Shooting down people who are unarmed, who are essentially defenseless--I consider that a cowardly act,” Carlisle said in November.
Glenn Sexton, Xerox Hawaii’s vice president and general manager, said the trial will be a difficult experience for the company’s 140 employees.
The company plans a memorial to victims: Melvin Lee, 58; Ron Kawamae, 54; Ron Kataoka, 50; Peter Mark, 46; Ford Kanehira, 41; John Sakamoto, 36; and Jason Balatico, 33.
“It is a little bit like the wound begins to heal and now it will be re-injured,” Sexton said.