clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

JUDGE AWARDS $650,000 TO PARENTS OF SLAIN STUDENT

A judge Thursday awarded more than $650,000 in damages and funeral costs to the parents of a Japanese exchange student, saying there was "no justification whatsoever" for the killing of the 16-year-old boy who approached a suburban homeowner's door in a Halloween costume almost two years ago.

The judge's ruling in a case that crystallized major cultural differences between Japan and America differed sharply from a criminal court jury's verdict last year, when the homeowner, Rodney Peairs, was acquitted of manslaughter. Judge Bill Brown, who heard the civil case without a jury, condemned the shooting, which had provoked outrage in Japan, where gun ownership is rare.Speaking in a quiet but firm tone, Brown said that he was not making any "social comment" about gun control, but he made clear that he believed Peairs was wrong to use his gun.

"There was absolutely no need to the resort of a dangerous weapon," the judge told a crowded and silent courtroom.

Peairs strode briskly from the courthouse after the ruling, offering no comment. The lawyer for his insurance company, Louisiana Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co., said the ruling would be appealed. The company is liable for only $100,000 of the award.

(The news of the judgment was received in Japan on Friday morning with a sense of justice done.

Television news shows covered the event with a straightforward but approving tone. The Tokyo Broadcasting System led one of its morning news shows with the story and quoted the dead youth's mother as saying, "I felt the intelligence and reasoning of America in the judgment."

NHK, the government-owned network, put the judgment in the context of America's coming to terms with gun violence.

Peairs was at home with his family in October of 1992 when the student, Yoshihiro Hattori, and an American companion mistakenly rang his doorbell in search of a Halloween party. Peairs's wife, Bonnie, answered and, frightened, yelled to her husband to get his gun. Peairs shot Hattori dead after warning him to "freeze," a phrase the young man apparently did not understand.

The verdict in the 1993 criminal trial was as baffling to Hattori's parents and their countrymen as the shooting itself. But the acquittal could be attributed in part to a defense that portrayed Peairs, then a butcher at a local supermarket, as simply an ordinary, gun-owning homeowner responding in a normal way.

A precedent in Louisiana law establishes that a homicide can be considered justifiable self-defense if "the person who is attacked" believes "that he is in imminent danger of losing his life or receiving serious personal injury." But Thursday Brown, whom local lawyers view as conservative in his rulings and his politics, said: "There was no justification whatsoever that the killing was necessary to save himself or his family."

Hattori's parents, Masaichi and Mieko, who both testified, said afterward that they were pleased, and their lawyer, Charles Moore, described the monetary award as "generous." "We are satisfied to finally find out with whom the responsibility belongs," the mother said.