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GOLDSEA | IDENTITY

TWO DEATHS,
NO JUSTICE

There are reasons for suspecting foul play in the shooting deaths of Brandon Lee and Yoshi Hattori.
by J Harper Liu

PAGE 1 OF 5

"A boy's life was needlessly snuffed by the thoughtless, blind triggering of a .44 magnum wielded by a frightened resident -- and the crowd cheered."
either of them saw it coming. The last moments of their lives were framed against the muzzle flash of a .44-magnum handgun. One shooting took place on the set of a North Carolina film studio; the other in a carport in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. As the lead slugs ripped into their bodies, their foreshortened lives finished on a note of stunned disbelief.
     Brandon Lee and Yoshihiro Hattori never knew each other, but they shared an uncommon passion for life. Lee, the 28-year-old son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, was scaling his way up the ladder in Hollywood, making the transition from famous actor's son to lead actor in action-adventure films. He had a promising career and a beautiful fiancee whom he was due to marry in Ensenada, Mexico, less than three weeks after the fatal incident. Hattori, a 16-year-old exchange student from Japan, was a bright, fun-loving sprite who had captivated his schoolmates and his host family in Baton Rouge with his charm and love of movement and dance. He had arrived in America only two months before the shooting and had planned to spend the school year in Louisiana.
     Their deaths earlier this year were highly publicized, each sensational in its own manner. Lee died in an alleged freak accident during the filming of a movie called The Crow, while Hattori was shot to death by a suburban homeowner who said he feared for his life as the youngster approached his home inquiring about a Halloween party.
     What links Lee and Hattori is not only the extraordinary circumstances of their deaths, but also the fact that neither slaying resulted in a criminal conviction.
     In Wilmington, North Carolina, where Lee's shooting took place, District Attorney Jerry Spivey said he found no evidence that anyone intended to harm the young actor after examining the police report compiled by homicide investigators. Wilmington Detective Brian Pettus said the six-week probe into Lee's death involved over 700 man-hours of investigation. Altogether, about 3,000 pages of notes were compiled and approximately 50 people were interviewed, said Pettus. No indictments were handed down.
     In Baton Rouge, Rodney Peairs, the homeowner who gunned down Yoshi Hattori, was indicted by a grand jury. He was charged with manslaughter and put on trial in May. The jury, apprently convinced that Peairs was well within his rights to blow away an inquiring teenager, deliberated for just over three hours before acquitting him. Juries empaneled to hear routine shoplifting cases often take longer than three hours to reach a verdict.
     Questions remain in both cases.




Brandon Lee was the only son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee who too died under mysterious circumstances.

     Ballistics experts are skeptical about the manner in which Lee is said to have been killed during filming of The Crow. The scenario forwarded by some publications, that a bullet was somehow lodged in the gun's barrel and expelled with mortal force by the firing of a blank cartridge, seems reasonable at first glance, but doesn't stand up to scrutiny.
     Peairs' disastrous misjudgment in shooting Hattori resulted in a hasty acquittal in the deep South setting of Baton Rouge. After the verdict was read, spectators in the courtroom reportedly cheered and had to be quieted by the bailiff. A boy's life was needlessly snuffed by the thoughtless, blind triggering of a .44 magnum wielded by a frightened resident -- and the crowd cheered. Would the Louisians jury have been so quick to exonerate Peairs, the son of a local minister, if the victim had been White? Or would they have exonerated him at all?

randon Lee was on the threshold of becoming a star when he was killed on the set of The Crow, a violent fantasy about a rock musician who's murdered by thugs and returns from the dead to avenge his death. Lee had paid his dues, perfecting his craft in low-budget martial arts films like Legacy of Rage and Showdown in Little Tokyo. He garnered his first starring role in 1992 action film Rapid Fire and had signed a three-picture deal with Twentieth Century Fox.
     Lee believed that his role in The Crow would be his big break and poured his considerable energy and enthusiasm into the project, which was being shot in 58 grueling days to keep the production under its $14-million budget.
     Cameras were rolling when the incident occurred on Day 50 of the schedule. It was just after midnight on April 1. In the scene, a flashback illustrating how Lee's character is killed before coming back to life, Lee walks through a doorway and surprises two punks who are raping his girlfriend. One of the thugs, played by Michael Massee, panics, pulls a gun from his belt at fires at Lee. PAGE 2

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