Tuesday, January 12, 1999

Brain damage
used as defense
in double-slaying

By Rod Thompson


HILO -- Tetsuya "Grizzly" Yamada, accused of the 1996 shotgun slayings of his ex-wife and stepdaughter, suffered brain damage in a series of accidents which prevented him from knowing what he was doing when he killed the women, his attorney told a Hilo jury yesterday.

"We know that Mr. Yamada suffers from brain deficit," attorney Michael Ebesugawa told the jury in seeking acquittal of Yamada, 61, for the deaths of Carla Russell, 50, and Rachel DeCambra, 23.

Anticipating an insanity defense, Deputy Prosecutor Michael Kagami told jurors that a series of doctors, except for one doctor expected to testify for the defense, found no brain damage.

In a brief statement to jurors, Kagami said Yamada told police he killed the women with a shotgun because he heard them at their house next to his calling him a "Jap" and his current wife a "stupid Hawaiian."

Yamada doesn't remember the moment of the shootings, but tests showed gunshot residue on his hands, Kagami said.

Ebesugawa began a lengthy statement to jurors attempting to put them inside Yamada's mind moments after the shootings.

He awoke, apparently from a blackout, thinking "Where am I; what's happening?" Ebesugawa said.

He heard a ringing, but the telephone in front of him was broken. He was in Russell's house holding a gun. He saw two people slumped down, not moving.

"In his brain, he tried to think, to put things together like blocks in a puzzle," Ebesugawa said. "His brain answered,'You must have shot them.'"

Yamada was in a head-on car accident in 1959 which damaged the frontal area of his brain, Ebesugawa said. In 1971, he fell from a horse that rolled over him. In 1973, he was in another car accident, in which he suffered head and back injuries.

In 1979, at the age of 42, he was forced to retire from his job at an agricultural experimental station because of increasing physical and mental health problems, Ebesugawa said.

He took strong pain medications and "antidepressants that allowed him to function, but not function normally," Ebesugawa said.

Yamada, a gun collector, was married to his second wife Russell, a gun dealer, for 4-1/2 years until a peaceful divorce.

Russell continued to live next door to him, but in the six months before the shootings, their relationship soured to the point that each had a restraining order against the other, Ebesugawa said.

The "overwhelming stress" of events -- such as DeCambra's boyfriend's dogs killing Yamada's chickens -- finally triggered a mental state in which Yamada was unable to control himself or understand the wrongfulness of his acts, Ebesugawa said.

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