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Saturday, May 13, 2000

Xerox building sign


Uyesugi defense
team takes on
Herculean task

An insanity plea is rare
and difficult to defend,
experts say

Bullet Coming Monday: Coverage
of the Byran Uyesugi trial

By Debra Barayuga


THE FACTS: Seven men were gunned down at the Xerox building last November.

THE ACCUSED: Fellow copy machine repairman Byran Uyesugi.

THE TASK: Proving that he was legally insane at the time of the shootings.

Jason Balatico, Ford Kanehira, Ronald Kataoka, Ron Kawamae, Melvin Lee, Peter Mark, John Sakamoto

IT'S a tough burden for the defense, observers say, but not impossible.

It will be up to a jury of 12 to decide whether the defense meets the burden of proof. Jurors will get their chance Monday, when trial begins in Hawaii's worst multiple slaying.

Uyesugi, 40, a copy machine repairman, is charged with first-degree murder and seven counts of second-degree murder for the shooting deaths of seven co-workers at the Xerox building on North Nimitz Highway. He is also charged with attempting to shoot an eighth employee.

The state's goal, said city Prosecutor Peter Carlisle, is to convict Uyesugi as charged.

Uyesugi's lawyers, Jerel Fonseca and Rodney Ching, will be relying on the insanity defense -- a defense where a person affirms he committed the offense he is charged with.

That defense contends that because a person suffers from a mental disease, disorder or defect, he does not have the capacity to follow the law and therefore should not be held responsible, said Virginia Hench, professor of criminal law at the University of Hawaii.

It's a basic principle of criminal law that if someone is to be punished for certain conduct, their state of mind at the time has to be considered, she said.

"While insanity is not a justification -- it doesn't say we approve of what you did -- but you're excused because the disease or defect caused you to lack substantial capacity to behave as a citizen should under the law," Hench said.

Most of the time, insanity defenses are not successful, Hench said. "But each case has to stand on its own merits ... its own facts."

Byran UyesugiThe difficulty in an insanity defense is the burden of proof shifts to the defendant.

The defense has to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Uyesugi suffered from a mental disease or defect that made him unable to distinguish right from wrong, said Jack Tonaki, state public defender in charge of the felony division who has defended insanity cases.

There's a reason why such a defense is provided for under Hawaii law. "There are many situations where a defendant is so impaired mentally that it's not morally right to incarcerate the person because of this disease that they suffer," Tonaki said.

Uyesugi's attorneys will have to dispute the findings of three court-appointed doctors who found that while Uyesugi suffered from a mental disorder, he was able to appreciate the consequences of his actions and conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.

Insanity not an easy way out

Not everyone who has a mental disorder meets the legal test of insanity.

The standard is very difficult to meet and, historically, it's rare to successfully pursue an insanity claim, said Honolulu psychologist Gary Farkas, who has served on panels appointed by the courts to examine defendants.

But it's not impossible.

Successful insanity cases in Hawaii include defendants Warren Miller and Randall Saito.

Many times, however, those acquitted by reason of insanity find they spend more time hospitalized than they would have spent in prison had they been convicted, Farkas said.

Miller and Saito have each spent more than 20 years at the Hawaii State Hospital since being acquitted by reason of insanity in the late 1970s and have yet to be released.

Miller was denied his latest bid for release last month after the courts found he failed to prove he is no longer mentally ill or dangerous.

He was acquitted by reason of insanity in the 1977 rape and attempted murder of a 20-year-old tourist, who he raped with a beer bottle and then tossed off a cliff at Waialae Iki Ridge.

Saito, acquitted of stabbing and fatally shooting a woman in the face at Ala Moana Center in 1979, made his latest bid for release in March.

A panel of doctors has been appointed to examine him and recommend whether he is fit to be released.

Star-Bulletin file photo
Police close off traffic after the shooting at the
Xerox Building in November.

Saito has been diagnosed as a necrophiliac, a person sexually attracted to corpses. The state feels he fits all the criteria of a serial killer and oppose his release.

Another defense Uyesugi's attorneys could raise is that at the time of the killings, he was under extreme mental and emotional distress for which there is a reasonable explanation.

That defense, if successful, reduces murder to the lesser charge of manslaughter, punishable by a maximum 20 years in prison for each count.

The state still has to prove the elements of the charged offenses beyond a reasonable doubt -- that Uyesugi intentionally or knowingly caused the deaths of more than one individual.

The jury can convict Uyesugi as charged, acquit Uyesugi by reason of insanity, or convict him of lesser charges.

Whatever the jury decides, Uyesugi is not likely to be released any time soon.

If someone is acquitted by reason of insanity, the person doesn't leave the courtroom scot-free, Tonaki said.

If the court finds he is a danger to himself or to the community, the person is committed to the State Hospital indefinitely, or until the court determines he is fit for release.

Regardless of what Uyesugi's defense is, his lawyers are battling the emotional impact the shooting had on the community and the public's perception of Hawaii as a peaceful paradise, Tonaki said, "and that is a formidable task for Mr. Uyesugi's attorneys."

To Uyesugi's credit, the defense lawyers are very capable and are highly regarded in the legal community, he said. Uyesugi "is in good hands."


Four Honolulu TV stations plan to broadcast live the opening arguments for the Byran Uyesugi trial that begins Monday.

KHON, KITV, KHNL and KGMB are scheduled to begin the broadcast at 8:30 a.m., when opening statements are expected to begin.

In addition to courtroom coverage, legal experts will provide courtroom commentary and help guide viewers through the legal process.

Defense attorney Keith Shigetomi and former Deputy Prosecutor Mike McGuigan will join KHON. Defense attorney Brook Hart will join KITV. Defense attorney Earle Partington will join KGMB. Defense attorneys William Harrison and Howard Luke are expected to join KHNL.

Internet users can keep up with the latest on the trial by logging on to for regular updates.

Star-Bulletin staff

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