When Stand Your Ground Went International

In 1992, Yoshihiro “Yoshi” Hattori, 16 years old, an American Field Service  international exchange student from Japan, thought that when he came to America he would be welcomed. Instead, he was gunned down from five feet away with a .44 caliber handgun by a Louisiana homeowner, then-31 year-old Rodney Peairs, – who later walked free.

This “stand your ground”-type incident sent the gun-control debate into international overdrive, gaining world wide attention two decades before Trayvon Martin was killed. The shooting was considered justifiable homicide under Louisiana’s 1976 “shoot-the-burglar” law, which allows a person to kill an intruder if he “reasonably believes” the intruder is trying to enter the house and might use violence against the occupants.

Yoshi had been in the United States for several weeks. His American host, 16-year-old Webb Haymaker, and Yoshi (with bandages over his head, hands, and legs, wearing a white tuxedo and black pants to imitate John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever”) headed out to a Halloween party October 17, 1992.

Yoshihiro "Yoshi" Hattori
Yoshihiro “Yoshi” Hattori (family photo)

Since he had injured his neck jumping into a swimming pool at his house, Yoshi’s neck was in a plaster cast. Neither of them had any makeup on their faces. They approached a home adorned with Halloween decorations which had a house number very similar to the house they were looking for.

They walked to a door in the carport on the side of the house. Then they heard someone bang the door. “Are we at a wrong house?” they wondered, moved back toward the road, and stood there for a while. Meanwhile, inside the house, the homeowners had seen them coming. Bonnie Peairs, told her husband Rodney, “Go get the gun.”

Webb and Yoshi heard the door open and someone appeared.”We are here for a party!” Yoshi explained and started to walk fast to the door through the carport. Seeing Rodney Peairs holding a gun in his hand at the door, Webb cried to Yoshi “No. Come back!”

Freeze!” warned Peairs, as Yoshi repeated, “We are here for a party!” No sooner had he finished the words than Peairs pulled the trigger. A bullet hit  Yoshi’s chest. Bleeding heavily, he died in an ambulance on the way to a hospital.

Almost three weeks later, on November 4, 1992, a Louisiana grand jury indicted Peairs for manslaughter. At his arraignment on December 16, he pled not guilty. A trial began on May 17, 1993.

On May 23, the jurors reached a unanimous verdict of not guilty, ruling that Peairs acted in self-defense. In his concluding argument, Peairs’ attorney said, “We have a legal right to open the door holding a gun to anyone when the door bell rings. This is the law of this country.”

On July 13, 1993, Masaichi and Mieko Hattori, Yoshi’s parents, filed a civil lawsuit against Mr. and Mrs. Peairs. Charles Moore, the Hattoris’ attorney, brought up revelations of contradictions in the defendants’ criminal trial testimonies.

Masaichi and Mieko Hattori
Masaichi and Mieko Hattori (photo credit: Japandailypress.com)

The judge denied Peairs’ claim that he felt he was in danger, deciding that his action was against Louisiana law requiring special precaution for use of firearms and that Yoshi was not at fault. The judgment stated that a reasonable person would have asked, “Why do we need a gun? What did you see?” and thus, self-defense immunity was not granted in the civil trial.

On September 15, 1992 the Hattoris won the civil case and were awarded $653,000 as compensation for damages. The civil judgment cleared Bonnie Peairs of responsibility for her role in telling Rodney, “Go get the gun” upon seeing Yoshi. A Japanese documentary film called “Shot Heard Around the World” covers the civil trial in detail.

The Hattoris established The Yoshi Foundation following Yoshi’s death, funded by donations and 10 million yen out of Yoshi’s life insurance and managed by AFS Japan. Each year since 1994 one student from the U.S. experiences Japanese society with the hope that they will get a deeper understanding of a culture where guns are not a necessity.

The student lives with a host family and attends high school in Japan. Every year, Yoshi’s parents meet with the student to tell them about Yoshi’s misfortune, with the hope that small efforts can eventually bring international peace.

[Updated December 28, 2015]


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