BATON ROUGE, La. -- A Baton Rouge man who fatally shot a 16- year-old Japanese exchange student outside his home last Halloween wept on the witness stand Saturday, saying he was 'sorry it ever happened.'
Rodney Peairs, 31, is on trial for the 1992 slaying of Yoshihiro Hattori -- a native of Nagoya, Japan. The student was shot near the carport of the Peairs family home while he and an American friend were in costume and trying to find a Halloween party to which they had been invited.
Pearis' wife, Bonnie, wrapped up defense testimony in the afternoon, saying she reacted without thinking in calling for her husband to get a gun when she spotted the youth coming 'real fast toward me.'
Court is scheduled to reconvene Sunday at 11 a.m. EDT for closing arguments and the jury is expected to begin deliberations in the afternoon.
The case has aroused great interest in Japan, where the use of firearms by civilians is virtually unknown.
Under examination by his defense attorney, Lewis Unglesby, Rodney Peairs recounted the story he told police the night of the shooting.
He said he and his family were getting ready for supper at about 8 p. m. when his wife went to the carport door off the kitchen, then slammed the door shut.
'She slammed the door real hard,' Peairs said, 'And that upset me because I don't like doors slammed loud.'
Peairs said his wife was terrified and was 'hollering at me to get a gun.' He said she had never reacted like that before and was gathering the children up and following him to the back of the house.
'I didn't ask any questions, I went to the bedroom and got a gun,' he said.
He told of returning to the kitchen area 'to see if what it was had left.' He opened the door and saw movement when he looked to his right but couldn't tell what it was.
'The next thing I remember is turning to the left and seeing a person coming from behind my car who kept coming real fast,' he said. 'I pointed the gun at him and told him to freeze.
'He kept coming, coming real fast, waving something in one of his hands. I couldnt' see what it was. His right hand was in front of him and he was moving very erratic.'
Peairs said he locked his elbows and wrists in a shooting stance with the .44 magnum in both hands.
'I was scared to death that this person was not going to stop, that this person was going to do harm to me,' he said.
Earlier testimony showed the carport light was on and a street light was located in front of the house.
Hattori was dressed in a white tuxedo coat, black trousers and an array of jewelry wrapped around his neck, his American friend, Webb Haymaker, testified earlier.
Asked by his attorney to estimate the time between his opening the door and firing the gun, Peairs estimated it was 'about 3 seconds.'
'I felt I had no other choice,' he said.
Peairs said the gun was visible at all times and 'I couldn't understand why this person wouldn't stop.'
At that point, Peairs broke down weeping.
'I hope Mr. Hattori (the dead youth's father, who is attending the trial) can understand how I feel,' he said. 'I'm sorry this ever happened.'
Bonnie Peairs supported her husband's testimony during the hour of sometimes tearful testimony she delivered. Though in cross-examination she admitted that when she called 911 to report the incident that 'a boy' had been shot despite only briefly glimpsing Hattori.
'I've always seen things like this on TV and I thought I would call the police,' she said, 'but when it comes right down to it and you are scared half to death, I just just automatically reacted.'
'I never had thought anything like that could happen to our family.'