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Wednesday, June 14, 2000



By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Prosecutor Peter Carlisle speaks to the media after the guilty
verdict is announced in court. Behind him are relatives of the
victims: Evelyn Balatico, left, mother of Jason Balatico,
and Audry Lee, sister of Melvin Lee.

Uyesugi unlikely
to ever leave prison

Uyesugi awaits sentencing under suicide watch

By Debra Barayuga,
Suzanne Tswei and Pat Omandam


It's likely convicted gunman Byran Uyesugi will never get out of prison alive or get proper treatment for his mental illness, court observers say.

Xerox Trial A Circuit Court jury yesterday found the 40-year-old Xerox copy repairman guilty as charged of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of seven Xerox co-workers last November.

The swift verdict in Hawaii's worst multiple murder, reached at about 2:45 p.m., capped a morning of closing arguments preceded by 10 days of evidence over three weeks.

Uyesugi faces life imprisonment without the possibility of parole when sentenced Aug. 8. Had he been acquitted by reason of insanity, he would have been committed to the Hawaii State Hospital for an indefinite period.

While the governor has the power to commute his sentence after Uyesugi has served at least 20 years in prison, "I doubt it very much," said criminal defense attorney Earle Partington.

"This is one of the rare cases people will remember as long as they live because it's a great human tragedy."

The jury also found Uyesugi guilty of attempted second-degree murder for shooting and narrowly missing Steven Matsuda in the stairwell of the Xerox building.

When they returned the first-degree murder verdict, the jury found Uyesugi caused the deaths of Jason Balatico, Ron Kawamae, John Sakamoto, Melvin Lee, Ford Kanehira, Peter Mark and Ron Kataoka on Nov. 2 and he did so "intentionally and knowingly." Jurors did not have to return a verdict on the seven lesser counts of second-degree murder.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Byran Uyesugi is escorted from Circuit Court following his conviction.

The 12-member jury deliberated 1 hour and 20 minutes, with a key to Uyesugi's conviction being that he seemed to be in control during the shootings, juror Gordon Lau said.

Uyesugi's attorneys had sought an acquittal by reason of insanity, saying he suffered from delusions for at least 10 years, believing that co-workers were conspiring against him.

The state had argued that although he suffered from a mental disorder, he knew what he was doing when he gunned down his co-workers.

An audible "yes" arose from spouses and family members of the seven victims and several wiped back tears as court clerk Lynette Gomes, in a sometimes quavering voice, read the verdict aloud.

Prosecutors Peter Carlisle, Chris Van Marter and Kevin Takata quietly congratulated each other with handshakes and later shook hands with defense attorneys Jerel Fonseca and Rodney Ching.

Uyesugi, clad in his traditional court garb -- an untucked aloha shirt -- showed no reaction to the verdict, said Fonseca, lead defense attorney. "That's pretty much (how Uyesugi behaved) from the beginning ... no emotion at all."

None of Uyesugi's family members -- including an uncle and aunt who faithfully attended every day of the trial -- were present for the verdict. His father, Hiroyuki Uyesugi later issued a written apology to the spouses and family members of the seven victims.

The defense said they were not surprised when the jury returned a first-degree murder conviction. "That was always one of the big worries ... (that the jurors would find) he was not insane," said Fonseca.

Associated Press
Byran Uyesugi confers with his attorney,
Jerel Fonseca, during his trial yesterday.

The verdicts

Byran Uyesugi was found guilty as charged of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of seven Xerox Corp. employees last November.

The unanimous guilty verdict emcompassed:

Count 1

The first-degree murders of Ron Kawamae, Jason Balatico, Melvin Lee, Ford Kanehira, Ronald Kataoka, Peter Mark and John Sakamoto.

Count 9

The second degree attempted murder of Steve Matsuda, a co-worker who escaped the carnage.

The impending sentence

Mandatory life in prison without possibility of parole. The sentencing hearing will be Aug. 8 in Judge Marie Milks' courtroom.

Fonseca said insanity is a difficult defense to prove and difficult for jurors to buy.

Uyesugi to this day still believes that the victims conspired against him and sabotaged his work, Fonseca said.

"I think he still doesn't fully understand what he's done. When a person doesn't fully understand what he's done, it's difficult to feel remorse," Fonseca said.

Uyesugi is no longer plagued by the black shadow and poking sensations he experienced before the shootings, perhaps due to a change in environment, Fonseca said.

He added he was satisfied with the job he and fellow attorney Rodney Ching did. Fonseca admitted he was nervous the night before closing arguments and couldn't sleep.

When asked if the testimony by family members influenced jurors in the prosecution's favor, Fonseca said, "You always worry about the sympathy factor." But the widows' testimony also was needed by the defense, such as Merry Balatico's testimony saying her husband was not an FBI agent.

Uyesugi had told doctors that he suspected a federal agent was spying on him and mutilating his fish. He later told doctors he heard Balatico say after he shot him, "Don't you know I'm an FBI agent?"

Carlisle said he was pleased with the verdict but that it was "profoundly inadequate" to address the lives that were lost.

He said jurors did what they were supposed to do -- discuss the facts and apply the facts to the law. He attributed the jury's swiftness in reaching a verdict to the strength of the case.

During a debriefing after the verdict, jurors pointed out that they reached a decision quickly because they had received a lot of facts on the case, Carlisle said.

They also got a week-long recess last week to consider the facts while Judge Marie Milks was teaching on the mainland.

"It was like taking a course, getting a refresher course, and then going in to take the test. And for that reason, it was fast and easy for them," Carlisle said. "Remember, many of the facts weren't disputed, and the law was the law."

Testimony by the victim's family members helped the prosecution's case, Carlisle said. "I think you're allowed to show the victims, in terms of how human they are. I don't think you can just put on plastic gloves and forget the wonderful people who were killed."

The case was the largest multiple murder in Hawaii's history and Carlisle hopes that it will be the last one. He said the case was an alarming wake up call that Hawaii is not immune to that kind of violence. Because of the shootings, people are paying more attention to workplace violence and steps to address it, Carlisle said.

Carlisle praised Uyesugi's defense attorneys for taking the high road and not striking "cheap blows" at the prosecution. Judge Marie Milks thanked the jurors for their willingness to serve and their conscientiousness.

Carlisle praised his staff, the police department and the judiciary system for their thorough and quick work on this case. Judge Marie Milks handled the case "with great dignity," he said.

While there has been some criticism that the case was being tried in the press, he said he appreciated the restraint showed by local media.

Carlisle did have criticism for a state law which he and other prosecutors tried to get changed last year. It requires the prosecution to have the burden of disproving beyond a reasonable doubt that a killer suffered from extreme mental or emotional disturbance to get a murder conviction. If the jury had found Uyesugi acted out of extreme mental or emotional disturbance, it would have reduced murder to manslaughter.

"It seems to me that we ought to start taking measures that assist law enforcement and prosecution in cases of this nature, and we don't only blindly look to the defendant for what rights we wish to bestow."

Trial observers say Uyesugi likely will not receive treatment for his mental illness while in prison because the criminal justice system is not equipped with the funds and resources to deal with mentally ill defendants.

In many cases, a commitment to the State Hospital for a mentally ill person accused of a crime offers more protection for the public than if a person is convicted and sent to prison, Partington said.

Mentally ill people convicted of lesser felonies will at some point be released into society sicker than they went in, Partington said.

Someone could still be confined to the state hospital for life and receive proper treatment, he said.

The Uyesugi case shows the difficulty in raising the insanity defense, Partington said.

Defense attorneys raising the defense in the future will likely opt for a jury-waived trial because judges are more inclined to be fair, he said. With jurors, the insanity defense is an "impossible sell."

"Even Johnnie Cochran and F. Lee Bailey (O.J. Simpson's defense lawyers) could not have sold insanity in the Uyesugi case."

Uyesugi awaits sentencing
under suicide watch

Star-Bulletin staff


Byran Uyesugi was returned to the Oahu Community Correctional Center after the verdict to await sentencing Aug. 8 for his conviction on first-degree murder and one count of attempted second-degree murder.

Defense attorneys said he is under suicide watch.

Whether Uyesugi will appeal will be up to him, his attorneys said.

After he is sentenced, Uyesugi will be sent to Halawa Community Correctional Center.

Uyesugi faces life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for first-degree murder.

As part of his sentence, the court, by law, shall order the Public Safety director and the Hawaii Paroling Authority to ask the governor to commute his sentence to life with the possibility of parole after Uyesugi has served 20 years.

Uyesugi's attorneys can always argue after he's served a significant time behind bars that he is no longer mentally ill and can be released, said criminal defense attorney William Harrison.

But while the governor can commute his sentence, it doesn't happen very often, Harrison said.

Opening Arguments from May 15, 2000
Xerox killings - Nov. 2, 1999

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