Jury set to deliberate in Lankford case
The prosecution and defense make their closing arguments
Absurd, improbable, shallow, absolutely paper thin, doesn't make sense.
Those are some of the words city Prosecutor Peter Carlisle used in closing arguments yesterday to describe Kirk Matthew Lankford's explanation of how missing Japanese visitor Masumi Watanabe died and the reasons he covered up the death.
Lankford, 23, is on trial in Circuit Court in the murder of Watanabe, 21, who was last seen April 12 in Pupukea.
He testified that he accidentally struck Watanabe with his work truck and while driving her around the Pupukea area to take her home, Watanabe died when she dived out of the truck and struck her head on a rock. He said he covered up what happened out of fear of losing his job.
"The reason Kirk Lankford did these things was to cover up the terrible crime that he did: the killing of Masumi Watanabe," Carlisle said.
Lankford said he disposed of Watanabe's body in the ocean off Kualoa.
Without the body and because of Lankford's actions to cover up the death, the state's burden in the case was to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt almost entirely on circumstantial evidence.
That is something Lankford's lawyer Don Wilkerson reminded jurors of yesterday in his closing argument.
"You can't convict Mr. Lankford merely because you think he might be guilty or you think he's guilty. You can't even convict him if you think he's probably guilty. You can't convict him if you know he's probably guilty," Wilkerson said. "You can only convict him if you know he's guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."
Wilkerson labeled the prosecution witnesses as liars, calling its accident reconstructionist Kenneth Baker a hired gun from the mainland. Baker testified the events involving Watanabe could not have happened the way Lankford described.
Wilkerson also called Honolulu Medical Examiner Kanthi De Alwis a liar for saying that the injuries on Lankford's hands at the time of his arrest are consistent with fingernail marks.
Carlisle told jurors the circumstantial evidence points to Lankford strangling Watanabe inside the cab of his work truck.
Carlisle also recounted for the jury statements Lankford made to paint a portrait of the defendant that could have been taken out of a textbook describing a psychopath.
The words he used to describe Lankford included glib, manipulative and cunning, narcissistic and grandiose attitude, lack of remorse or shame, minimizing his actions, shallow emotions, lack of empathy and absence of conscience.
The jury was to begin deliberations this morning. Besides murder, the jurors were also instructed they can consider manslaughter if they believe Lankford recklessly caused Watanabe's death.