Racial insults traumatized suspect in art instructor’s slaying, attorney says

A lawyer representing a Westlake Village man who was charged Tuesday in the fatal shooting of a Pasadena art college instructor said his client had been traumatized by years of insults targeting his Japanese heritage.

“This is a textbook heat-of-passion incident, which a jury would consider” in weighing whether Steven Ronald Honma “is guilty of murder or a lower-level homicide such as a manslaughter,” said Dmitry Gorin, whose law firm is representing Honma, 54, who was arrested Sunday in connection with the weekend slaying at a Persian new year’s party.

“While the sequence of events are still under investigation, there was someone at the party who made a derogatory racial and sexual slur about his wife,” Gorin said. “As a Japanese American growing up after World War II, Mr. Honma had experienced great trauma as a victim of racial bias, and that experience scarred him since childhood.”

Honma and his family “feel great sorrow and extend their condolences” to the family of Norman Schureman, 50, an instructor at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Gorin said. “Mr. Honma has never hurt anyone before in his life. Mr. Honma has been married for over 18 years and is respected, beloved by his friends and family.”

Honma was a guest at a party Saturday where the alleged taunt occurred; the source of the slur was unclear. He became enraged and left, returning minutes later with a knife and two guns, authorities said.

A fight ensued. When Honma was tackled, he allegedly pulled a handgun and fired, killing Schureman.

Gorin said his client was badly beaten in the incident and was in critical condition at a hospital, having suffered a possible brain injury.

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office Tuesday charged Honma with one count of murder and one count of possession of a firearm with a prior conviction. He is being held on $2-million bail. If convicted, Honma faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Honma was scheduled to appear in a Van Nuys courtroom Tuesday afternoon, but his injuries caused a postponement.