Lankford’s defense blames death on leap from truck
The attorney says that his client was trying to drive Watanabe home
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The story fits the evidence: blood smears and the victim's glasses in the defendant's truck.
But the attorney for accused killer Kirk Matthew Lankford insists the victim, Japanese visitor Masumi Watanabe, died accidentally.
Lankford will testify that he accidentally struck her with his truck and was driving her home when she abruptly jumped from the moving vehicle, hitting her head on a boulder, attorney Don Wilkerson told jurors yesterday. Lankford disposed of the body at sea for fear of getting in trouble, Wilkerson said.
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Missing Japanese visitor Masumi Watanabe died when she hit her head on a boulder after jumping out of accused killer Kirk Matthew Lankford's work truck as it was traveling at about 40 mph, Lankford's lawyer, Don Wilkerson, said yesterday.
"This was a terrible accident," he said.
Wilkerson's comments were part of his opening statement to the jury in Lankford's murder trial.
Lankford, 23, is on trial for murdering Watanabe by either causing her death and/or failing to get help for her knowing that she had been seriously injured.
Wilkerson's opening statement was highly anticipated because until then, Lankford's defense was a mystery. Wilkerson had only hinted at possible defenses in questions to prosecution witnesses during the past 2 1/2 weeks of trial.
Watanabe was last seen April 12 while walking on Pupukea Road. Lankford was working there as a Hauoli Termite & Pest Control technician.
Wilkerson said Lankford made a left turn onto Pupukea Road from a side street while looking at a map and struck Watanabe. "And when he looked up, Miss Watanabe stepped out to the left in front of him. She reached out, and her left arm hit the windshield, she spun off to the right," Wilkerson said.
Lankford stopped and saw Watanabe getting up off the ground in his rearview mirror, Wilkerson said. He then went to see if she was OK and asked her if she needed help.
He was able to persuade Watanabe to get into his truck so he could drive her home. But Watanabe did not speak much, and when she did, it was in Japanese, Wilkerson said.
Lankford drove up and down Pupukea Road hoping Watanabe could direct him to where she lives, Wilkerson said. At one point, Lankford turned off Pupukea Road, and that is when he said Watanabe started getting excited and loud.
And as she got louder, Lankford drove faster. That was when Watanabe opened the passenger side door and jumped out of the moving truck, Wilkerson said. Lankford turned around to see what happened to Watanabe and found her on the side of Makana Road.
"He checked her pulse. She had no pulse. Her head was severely disformed and disfigured. It appeared as though she hit her temple on the rock," Wilkerson said.
So Lankford loaded Watanabe's body onto the tailgate of the truck, which has flip-up panels on three sides, and placed some items on top of the body to conceal it, Wilkerson said.
He went about completing his jobs for the rest of the day, Wilkerson said.
That evening, Lankford transferred Watanabe's body from his work truck to his personal truck and went to Home Depot, where he bought a shovel, trash bags, duct tape and gloves. Wilkerson said Lankford put Watanabe's body in trash bags, sealed them with the duct tape and headed to Kahana Bay.
At Kahana Bay, Lankford realized he would not be able to dig a hole with the shovel because it had a flat edge, Wilkerson said. He was also confronted by a witness who identified him earlier in the trial.
Wilkerson said Lankford left and stopped in Kualoa. "He got out towards Chinaman's Hat, by Kualoa Ranch, took her body out of the truck and walked her out into the ocean as far as he could, which is quite a distance in that area," Wilkerson said, "and left her body there."
Watanabe's body has not been recovered.
Wilkerson said Lankford lied to his bosses about what happened and covered up his actions to protect himself and his family from a situation he did not feel he caused.