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Man Who Shot Japanese Exchange Student Goes On Trial

May 15, 1993

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) _ As an exchange student from Japan, Yoshi Hattori eagerly embraced American culture. For his first Halloween in the United States, he dressed as John Travolta’s character in ″Saturday Night Fever.″

But another aspect of the American way - guns - cost the 16-year-old his life.

Trial begins Monday for Rodney Peairs, a meat market manager who is charged with manslaughter in Hattori’s shooting.

While looking for a Halloween party last October, Hattori and an American friend got lost and knocked on the wrong door. A man shouted ″Freeze 3/8″ but Hattori, who spoke sketchy English, apparently did not understand.

He moved forward and was shot once in the chest.

The killing was a shock in Japan, where guns are rare and most shootings gang-related. Japanese media have descended on Baton Rouge to cover the case’s every turn.

Peairs, 31, has said the boys made a commotion that scared his wife and he got his .44-caliber Magnum to defend his family. When the boy moved toward him, he said, he didn’t have time to think.

Peairs went into seclusion after the shooting. His number is unlisted and attempts to reach him for comment were unsuccessful.

He has tried to apologize to Hattori’s parents, in Nagoya, Japan. But they have focused not on Peairs himself but on the society that gave him a gun.

″The real issue to me is not the Peairs,″ said Yoshi’s American host, Richard Haymaker. ″They put a face on it - their face and Yoshi’s face, but the problem is national. (Peairs’ trial) won’t end that problem.″

In December, the boy’s mother presented the U.S. ambassador with 800,000 signatures calling for new gun laws in the United States. Haymaker, whose son was with Hattori when he died, lobbied the Louisiana Legislature on a gun control measure last week.

″People quote the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms,″ Haymaker said in a telephone interview Friday. ″Well, aren’t there responsibilities that come with rights? Isn’t that one of the most traditional American values, not that the country owes you that right, but that you have a responsibility when you accept that right.″

So far, Haymaker has made little progress. The bill he supported was killed when lawmakers decided to study the issue for a year.

Despite the maelstrom of media attention, defense attorney Lewis Unglesby said he would not ask for a change of venue because he thought local jurors would be sympathetic.

″All I can ask for is a jury that is open-minded, listens to the evidence and applies the law,″ Unglesby said. ″If they do, they’ll find more than enough reasonable doubt.

″If there are people who have some sort of social agenda, I can’t say what will happen.″

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