NELSON DARANCIANG / NDARANCIANG@STARBULLETIN.COM
Kirk Lankford described in court yesterday his actions on the day of Masumi Watanabe's death.
Lankford details Watanabe’s death and her ocean burial
The murder defendant says he went to band practice before trying to bury the victim
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Murder defendant Kirk Matthew Lankford testified yesterday that Japanese visitor Masumi Watanabe died after diving out of his work truck in Pupukea last year.
Lankford told jurors in his Circuit Court trial that Watanabe was in the truck because he had accidentally hit her with the truck last April.
He told the jurors he disposed of her body in the ocean that evening out of fear of losing his job.
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Accused killer Kirk Matthew Lankford admitted yesterday that he lied when police questioned him two days after presumed murder victim Masumi Watanabe disappeared in Pupukea last April.
Lankford, 23, on trial in Watanabe's murder, took the witness stand yesterday in his own defense.
Under questioning by city Prosecutor Peter Carlisle, Lankford admitted that he lied to Officer Phil Camero of the Honolulu Police Department's Missing Person Detail about never seeing or encountering Watanabe or letting her get into his Hauoli Termite & Pest Control work truck.
"Because you did not want him to find evidence of what you had done," Carlisle said.
Lankford said, "Not at that time."
"As opposed to what time?" Carlisle asked.
Lankford said, "As opposed to when I was charged with murder."
Police charged Lankford with Watanabe's murder April 28 last year. Yesterday was the first time Lankford disclosed to authorities that he did see Watanabe on the day she disappeared.
He told the jury in his murder trial yesterday that he accidentally hit her with his work truck but that she was not seriously injured by the impact. Watanabe died when she jumped from his moving truck and hit her head on a roadside rock, he said.
Lankford told the jury after he accidentally struck Watanabe, he saw that she had scratches on at least one of her hands, and she was holding one of her arms.
He said he was able to persuade her to get into his truck despite her lack of English and his inability to speak Japanese. He said he believed she understood that he wanted to drive her to where she lived.
Lankford was already on notice about his driving and feared if his employer learned of the accident, he would lose his job.
"So I decided to try to just fix the situation myself," he said.
After Watanabe jumped out of his truck, hit her head on a rock and died, he said, he did not know what to do. He looked for his telephone to call somebody, not 911 but probably his father, but he did not immediately find his telephone.
So he said he loaded Watanabe's body onto the tailgate of his truck and covered it with bags and a water hose to conceal it, then drove down the hill and thought about what had just happened and what to do.
"At that point I know I already made some bad decisions," Lankford told the jury.
He said he realized the only way he was going to keep his job was if nobody found out about what happened. He said he covered Watanabe's head with a bag, moved her body to one of the truck's covered compartments and went back to work.
At the end of the day, he said, he picked up his pregnant wife and son and went to church for band practice. After church he dropped off his wife and son, went to Home Depot to purchase a shovel, gloves, trash bags and a flashlight and retrieved Watanabe's body from his work truck. He also said he triple-bagged Watanabe's body and sealed the bags with duct tape.
"I had been thinking about it throughout the day, and it just seemed like the right thing to do was to bury her," he said.
He chose Kahana Bay because he said it is peaceful and isolated. When he got there he realized he brought the wrong kind of shovel, a flat-bladed one, for digging. And he was interrupted by a man who said his girlfriend was murdered there two months prior.
"That really freaked me out," Lankford said.
When the man threatened to call police, he said, he fled the area and stopped at a beach in Kualoa near the entrance of the Kualoa Ranch Visitor Center. With no means to dig a hole to bury Watanabe's body, he decided to release her in the ocean.
"I thought that that would hopefully be as peaceful as getting buried by the ocean," he said.