CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
The murder trial of Kirk Lankford took a field trip Friday to the Pupukea and Kahana Bay area where Masumi Watanabe was last seen. At stops four and five, at 402 Makana Road in Pupukea, defense attorney Don Wilkerson, left, and Kirk Lankford left a beach house.
Dig not prejudicial, judge says
A circuit judge appears satisfied that jurors can remain impartial in the Masumi Watanabe murder trial despite having nearly seen people digging for Watanabe's body during a site visit Friday to Kahana Bay.
Judge Karl Sakamoto declined yesterday to question all of the jurors -- a request made by attorney Don Wilkerson, representing defendant Kirk Lankford.
On Friday, when the judge, court staff, lawyers, defendant and jurors arrived at Kahana Bay, three people were digging in the same spot where witness John Thoma had testified he saw Lankford digging the night that Watanabe disappeared.
One of the three people was Thoma.
The lawyers and court staff hurried the three off, but concerns remained yesterday that the encounter might have been prejudicial.
To find out what they had seen, Sakamoto questioned five jurors whose van was within view of Thoma and the others.
Based on the responses of two of five jurors, Wilkerson asked Sakamoto to ask all the jurors what, if anything, they saw at the site and whether that would affect their ability to remain fair and impartial.
Wilkerson also pressed Sakamoto to ask Thoma if anybody told him to be there at that particular time.
"It strikes me very odd that he would show up on the very day and time that the jury is there," said Wilkerson.
Sakamoto denied both requests.
Under questioning, all five jurors said they can be fair and impartial.
One juror said she did not see anything unusual.
Two jurors said they saw two women off to the side but did not know who they were.
One juror said she saw court staff talking to people, then saw Wilkerson and Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle standing off to the side with shovels. She also said she saw Wilkerson moving around at the site.
The fifth juror said he also saw people at the site but did not know what they were doing.
"I heard that they was digging, and the sheriffs told them they had to leave," the juror said.
When Sakamoto asked for more details and where he had heard that, the juror said, "All I remember, there was other people there looking for Masumi. And they had to leave."
When Sakamoto pressed the juror for the source of that information, he said he did not recall.
The judge reminded them not to discuss the case with anyone, even each other. Jurors are also instructed not to read, listen to or watch media coverage of the trial.