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Wednesday, June 14, 2000



By Ronen Zilberman, Associated Press
Byran Uyesugi is flanked by his lawyers Rodney Ching, left, and
Jerel Fonseca as the guilty verdict is read in court
yesterday afternoon.

Decision to spare worker
showed Uyesugi’s control

By Suzanne Tswei


IN the end -- after a total of 55 experts, witnesses and tearful widows testifying for 10 days stretched over more than three weeks -- the first-degree murder guilty verdict was swift and not surprising to legal veterans.

Xerox Trial "This is the verdict I would have predicted," said veteran criminal defense lawyer Brook Hart, who likened the killings of seven Xerox employees to "planned assassinations."

"I was convinced from what I saw just as an observer in the community, the defendant had not proved his case, and the government's proof was unequivocal and beyond a reasonable doubt."

While saying defense attorneys Jerel Fonseca and Rodney Ching had "a very difficult task" proving their client was legally insane, Hart said they failed to explain to the jurors why Byran Uyesugi was able to make conscious decisions to spare some Xerox employees during the shootings.

"That was key evidence to me," Hart said. "The defendant chose to kill some victims while releasing others. I thought that was very telling."

Uyesugi's decision to spare Randall Shin, who was in the same room with the first two victims, was evidence that "he was in control," and "control is the essence" of the case, Hart said.

"If you are out of control, you shoot everyone. But if you make a decision not to shoot someone while you kill the others, then you are in control," Hart said. Uyesugi's "considerable" mental illness apparently did not interfere with his ability to decide who should live and who should die, he said.

Uyesugi's ability to choose his victims was indication that "he was conforming his conduct to the law" and knew the killings were wrong, Hart said. These two factors showed that Uyesugi could not meet the legal definition of insanity and also that he was not suffering from extreme mental or emotional distress, which would have allowed him to be convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter, he said.

The fact the jurors returned the verdict quickly -- in an hour and 20 minutes -- was not surprising, either, Hart said. "That tells me the jurors were pretty clear in their minds before the final arguments," he said.

Hart said he believed the jurors thought about their decision during last week's break despite Judge Marie Milks' instructions prohibiting them to do so. "Let's face it: People are people and people will think, particularly with something as dramatic and complicated as this," he said.

But Hart said he did not see any grounds for mistrial, noting that Milks has a reputation for running "a tight, even-handed courtroom."

Hart has been practicing law for 32 years and had used the insanity defense successfully "more than several times." But he never defended a murder suspect using the insanity defense, he said.

David Gierlach, a criminal and civil lawyer in practice for 11 years in Honolulu, also said he expected the guilty verdict on the most severe of the charges. "This was a record-breaking crime, but not record-breaking" when it came to the verdict and how fast it was reached, he said.

Another veteran criminal defense lawyer, Howard Luke, also said he was not surprised by the verdict or the speed with which the jurors reached their unanimous verdict.

"I would have been surprised had the verdict been anything else," Luke said, adding that the chance for the lesser verdict of manslaughter was "remote," and acquittal by reason of insanity was "extremely remote."

The quick verdict showed the jurors did not "give much credence to the defense," who had the "very difficult burden" to prove insanity. Despite the sensational nature of the case, it did not break new grounds but did provide important lessons in life, Luke said.

"When all is said and done, probably the most profound thing that was done was done by the survivors -- particularly when Merry Balatico spoke about how difficult it was to be a single parent, how she could never explain to their kids why their father is gone. The pain that the survivors feel is something none of us can truly say we understand."

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

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