Roanoke Times
                 Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: MONDAY, May 24, 1993                   TAG: 9305240105
SOURCE: The Washington Post
DATELINE: BATON ROUGE, LA.                                LENGTH: Medium


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

"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.

Peairs shot Yoshihiro Hattori with a .44-caliber Magnum after Hattori mistakenly arrived at Peairs' house looking for a Halloween party on Oct. 17 last year. 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 in "Saturday Night Fever" and was brandishing nothing more menacing than a camera. It is unclear whether Hattori understood what Peairs meant by the command to freeze.

On its surface, the case seemed simple - mundane though tragic. A homeowner with a gun mistakenly kills a man he believes to be an intruder.

But its simplicity did not make it easy for Yoshito Okubo and dozens of other Japanese correspondents to explain the incident to people in their country.

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

The case was billed as a collision of cultures, and among the Japanese at least, the United States and its fondness for guns was on trial along with Peairs.

The slain student's father, Masaichi Hattori, an engineer, attended the trial and sat impassively, listening as a interpreter translated descriptions of his son as "out of control . . . a hyperactive Japanese exchange student who thought his job was to scare people."

After hearing the verdict, Hattori said Sunday 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 on the petition in Japan.

Hattori and a friend mistakenly appeared at Peairs' door looking for a Halloween party that was occurring six houses away. Peairs' wife, Bonnie, testified that she was frightened by Hattori's appearance and his statement: "We're here for the party."

 by CNB