An Oahu grand jury today returned a first-degree murder indictment against alleged gunman Byran Uyesugi, 40, for the deaths of seven co-workers in Hawaii's worst multiple slaying case.
The grand jury convened this morning almost one week to the hour after the murders of Melvin Lee, Ron Kawamae, Ron Kataoka, Peter Mark, Ford Kanehira, John Sakamoto and Jason Balatico in the Xerox building on Nimitz Highway.
The proceedings continued until about 11:30 a.m. Prosecutors and witnessess left the courthouse without comment.
Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle scheduled a 2 p.m. press conference to discuss the case.
Uyesugi was also indicted on seven counts of second-degree murder and an additional charge of attempted second-degree murder.
A preliminary hearing had been scheduled this afternoon for Uyesugi. At a preliminary hearing, the prosecution lays out its basic case in open court and the defense can cross-examine witnesses. With a grand jury, the defense is not present.
Uyesugi's next court appearance will be for an arraignment in Circuit Court.
Defense attorney Jerel Fonseca said Uyesugi's plea would remain not guilty, as entered at his initial court appearance last week. The first-degree charge covers multiple killings, and conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without parole.
Byran K. Uyesugi slammed his head against a windshield in a car accident 22 years ago and behaved differently afterward, according to a lawyer defending the copier repairman accused of killing seven Xerox co-workers last week.
"We got some basic information from his family. We don't know how serious it was or how much treatment he may have gotten," said defense attorney Jerel Fonseca. "We do know that in the past there was a head injury and that subsequent to that, non-normal behavior occurred."
Fonseca refused to describe the abnormal behavior, when it occurred or whether it extended beyond the few incidents already publicized. In 1993, Uyesugi was arrested for kicking and denting an elevator at work, and a neighbor has said Uyesugi complained of being tormented by a "spirit" in his brain five or six years ago.
Uyesugi's brother, Dennis Uyesugi, said yesterday that Byran crashed their father's car into a telephone pole while driving home from a high school graduation party in the spring of 1977. The car was "totaled," and Byran, who had just graduated from Roosevelt High School, hurt his knee, hip and head, the brother recalled, declining to say whether he'd been drinking.
"We took him to the emergency room and a plastic surgeon stitched him up, and within the next day or so, we went down to the service station where the car was and he showed me the windshield," Dennis Uyesugi said. "It was broken and some of his hair (was embedded) in the glass where his head hit."
Dennis Uyesugi declined to describe his brother's mental health after that, whether he got follow-up care or whether the accident was reported to the police, citing Fonseca's advice not to talk about the case.
Fonseca has said all along he would explore any legal defense for Uyesugi, including not guilty by reason of insanity or mental defect. To win, the defendant must prove he suffered from a recognized disorder and was operating under its influence at the time of the crime. Another strategy would be to argue that the defendant suffered "extreme mental or emotional disturbance," but that would at most reduce the charges to manslaughter.
Carlisle did not return a phone call late yesterday afternoon seeking comment on whether the 1977 head injury might be relevant. However, he has said previously that he doubted a mental defect defense would hold up in this case.
Fonseca said he is trying to get any police or medical records on the 1977 incident, as well as Uyesugi's personnel file from Xerox. Uyesugi was hired there in 1984 and fired after being arraigned last week.
"Obviously he qualified to work there and was trained and hired and did work there for many years," Fonseca said. "But these types of injuries (have various effects). A person can be able to work but have other problems."
Two types of brain injuryAccording to the U.S. Brain Injury Association, there are two types of brain injury: primary, which is essentially complete at the time of trauma, and secondary, which evolves over a period of hours to days after the initial impact. This secondary tissue damage is at the root of most of the severe, long-term deficits a brain-injured person faces. Early treatment can mean the difference between near-complete recovery and permanent disability.
Among the effects of brain injury are behavior problems, the most common of which involve a diminished ability to interact appropriately with other people, the association said. Less frequent problems include aggression, self-injury, property destruction, verbal abusiveness and tantrums. The bad behavior can become lifelong, worsening in frequency or severity, unless addressed soon after the injury, it said.
However, not all head-injured people develop such problems. And Fonseca acknowledged he needed a lot more information before being able to prove that Uyesugi did.
A Xerox executive last night declined to comment on any aspect of Uyesugi's 15-year work history, saying he preferred the case be discussed only in court. "Everything that we could possibly say might affect the prosecution's efforts," said Glenn Sexton, vice president and general manager for Xerox in Hawaii. "I would have limited knowledge of his work history anyway."
Police records requestedOther people who know Uyesugi have recalled him as a quiet, competent technician who gave no hint of violence.
A Star-Bulletin request for police records was referred to police spokeswoman Jean Motoyama, who said it would take several days to release anything, assuming the accident was reported to police.
Meanwhile, Uyesugi remains jailed at the Oahu Community Correctional Center on $7 million bail, which Carlisle said he would seek to have revoked because of the seriousness of the crimes and because he believes Uyesugi is a danger to the community.
Fonseca, who met with his client yesterday, said,"He's still not saying much. We have to do all of the talking and try to get the answers out of him as best we can."