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Thursday, May 18, 2000

Uyesugi trial hinges
on his state of mind

Bullet The issue: In addition to guilty of murder and not guilty by reason of insanity, the choices offered to a jury in the murder trial of Byran Uyesugi include manslaughter convictions.
Bullet Our view: Even the remote possibility of manslaughter convictions that might allow Uyesugi's eventual release may warrant a review of the insanity defense and manslaughter statutes.

THE main question before jurors in Circuit Judge Marie Milks' courtroom is not whether Byran Uyesugi killed seven Xerox colleagues last year but whether he was cognizant of the wrongfulness of his actions. In either case, Uyesugi probably will spend the rest of his life in confinement -- either in state prison or the Hawaii State Hospital. There is a possibility that a compromise similar to one adopted by Milks in a previous case could allow his eventual release, but that seems highly unlikely.

Defense attorney Rodney Ching does not challenge the allegation that Uyesugi shot his co-workers. However, he says, Uyesugi was suffering from a delusional disorder that affected his ability to tell right from wrong -- the legal standard for insanity. Ching said Uyesugi had undergone psychiatric treatment in 1993 for a mental illness that was "serious, long-standing and deeply ingrained."

City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle maintains that Uyesugi knew right from wrong and was capable of controlling his actions when he began firing on workers at the Xerox warehouse and offices on Nimitz Highway last Nov. 2. Psychiatric evidence to be presented by both sides on Uyesugi's state of mind -- not verification of the killings, which both sides agree were committed by Uyesugi -- is critical to the verdict.

The jury will have the option of convicting Uyesugi of manslaughter if it finds that he knew right from wrong but nevertheless was acting from extreme emotional disturbance.

That option becomes more significant because it was the choice made by Milks in the 1984 nonjury murder trial of Abdul Odood in the scissors stabbing of boxing manager Douglas Tatting in a boxing ring at Neal Blaisdell Arena. In a rambling statement to police, Odood said he committed the killing as "an agent of God" because Tatting was "the devil." Odood had been in and out of mental institutions for years and had been acquitted by reason of insanity in an assault case in 1979.

Did Milks' compromise verdict put the public at risk? Then-Deputy Public Defender Peter Roberts thought so at the time, predicting that it would allow Odood's release into society earlier than if he had been found insane and ordered to undergo mental treatment. Odood was released from prison several years ago without having the level of treatment he would have received in the State Hospital.

A manslaughter compromise seems highly improbable in the Uyesugi case, partly because of the public outrage that would be sure to follow. Far more likely is that the verdict will keep Uyesugi in confinement for the rest of his life.

However, the mere possibility that the jury or judge could arrive at such a verdict is troubling and may warrant a review of the insanity defense and manslaughter statutes.

Claims against U.S.
for nuclear testing

Bullet The issue: A tribunal has awarded natives of Enewetak Atoll $341 million as compensation for damages suffered as a result of nuclear weapons tests.
Bullet Our view: The United States has made efforts to deal with the effects of the tests but further payments may be justified.

AFTER World War II the United States conducted a series of nuclear weapons tests in the Marshall Islands. Several hundred atoll residents were evacuated to other islands but permitted to return years later after the government conducted cleanup operations to reduce radiation left by the tests.

In 1947 the government moved about 150 people from Enewetak to Ujelang Atoll. They were permitted to return to Enewetak in 1980.

Similarly, the residents of Bikini were evacuated to Kili in 1946. Some were permitted to return to Bikini in 1969, only to be removed again in 1978 when it was found that their bodies had absorbed higher-than-normal amounts of radioactive substances.

The Marshall Islands Nuclear Claims Tribunal recently awarded $341 million to compensate the natives of Enewetak for damages suffered as a result of the tests. A delegation from Enewetak will meet with federal officials in Washington, D.C., seeking payment of the award through Congress or the U.S. claims court.

There is no question that the islanders whose homelands were devastated by the tests suffered as a result of the tests.

However, it should be noted that the U.S. government has already gone to some lengths to deal with the problems created by the nuclear tests.

As a University of Hawaii scholar points out, from 1977 to 1980 the United States conducted a cleanup and rehabilitation of Enewetak at a cost of $218 million. In addition, $48 million from an overall settlement in the 1983 U.S. compact with the Republic of the Marshall Islands was earmarked for the benefit of the Enewetak people.

This is not a history of callous neglect. Much effort has already been devoted to making amends for the initial mistakes that resulted from an inadequate knowledge of the results of nuclear radiation.

Nevertheless, the claims tribunal's award may well be justified as a means of closing the book on this unfortunate situation.

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