GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
A Circuit Court jury found Kirk Lankford guilty yesterday of the murder of Masumi Watanabe.
Lankford found guilty
» Kirk Lankford faces life in prison for the murder of Masumi Watanabe
» Jury rejects story; deliberates less than two days in finding Lankford guilty
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The jury didn't buy it.
What's more, the defendant's ice-cold recital of events likely worked against him, legal observers say.
Kirk Lankford, 23, now faces a life prison term for second-degree murder in the death of Masumi Watanabe, 21, a visitor from Japan who vanished a year ago in Pupukea. Whether Lankford will be eligible for parole will be decided in court starting May 27.
He remains in custody without bail pending sentencing.
Watanabe's body has not been found, but police found glasses in Lankford's work truck that matched Watanabe's prescription, as well as DNA and blood matches.
Lankford testified that for fear of losing his job, he disposed of Watanabe's body in plastic bags at sea after she died in a freak accident.
Jurors, in returning a swift verdict yesterday, rejected that story.
"Someone that can be in church praying with his family while some poor woman is dead on the back of his truck -- if you believe that version -- is as coldblooded as you get," remarked criminal defense attorney Michael Green, who was not involved in the case.
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GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Kirk Lankford was found guilty yesterday of murdering Masumi Watanabe. City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle is in the foreground.
An Oahu jury found Kirk Matthew Lankford guilty yesterday of second-degree murder in the death of missing Japanese visitor Masumi Watanabe.
The jurors who found Kirk Lankford guilty of murdering Masumi Watanabe will return May 27 to Circuit Court to hear evidence and arguments and determine whether Lankford is eligible for an extended term: life in prison without parole.
The four male and eight female jury members took less than a day and a half to find Lankford, 23, guilty of murder by causing Watanabe's death and/or by failing to seek help in the knowledge that she was the victim of a crime and suffering serious injury.
"I hope that this brings comfort and closure to the family," said Prosecutor Peter Carlisle, who personally prosecuted the state's case against Lankford. "The Watanabes have shown remarkable dignity and have been extremely helpful and have persevered through this long and arduous process."
Watanabe, 21, was last seen alive April 12, 2007. Her body has not been found.
Her parents and two older brothers were on Oahu this weekend for a memorial service Saturday. They were on an airplane back to Japan when the jury returned its verdict.
A family representative in Hawaii said the Watanabes learned of the verdict from Japanese police when their plane landed. He said Masumi Watanabe's parents had an outburst of emotion when he talked to them on the telephone.
Lankford said Watanabe was not seriously injured after he accidentally hit her with his work truck. He said she died when she dived out of the moving truck as he was attempting to drive her home. He testified he disposed of Watanabe's body in the ocean off Kualoa.
Circuit Judge Karl Sakamoto found Lankford guilty of murder by commission, or for causing Watanabe's death.
Lankford's lawyer, Don Wil- kerson, said he believes the jury arrived at a different conclusion: murder by omission, that is, failing to seek help, based on a communication from the jury to the court before it reached a unanimous verdict.
Sakamoto denied Wilkerson's request for a mistrial based on the court's failure to instruct the jury on the definition of a crime or, in the alternative, instruct the jurors to indicate whether they chose commission or omission.
Sakamoto did grant Carlisle's request to order Lankford to remain in custody without the possibility for bail pending sentencing.
"Based on the facts given throughout this trial, the cold, calculating, deliberate conduct in the commission of the murder of Miss Watanabe raises serious issues: dangerousness to our community and a serious flight risk," Sakamoto said.
Lankford has been in custody at Oahu Community Correctional Center since his arrest last year, unable to post $1 million bail.
Outside the courtroom, Wil- kerson lashed out against the media.
"Every one of you have participated in the most dishonest reporting that I've ever seen in this state. Shame on every one of you," he said.
Carlisle and Wilkerson are limited in what they can say about the case outside court because the legal proceedings are not over. Carlisle has asked Sakamoto to sentence Lankford to an extended term because he believes Lankford is a danger to the community.
According to a recent change in state law, a jury must determine whether a convicted felon is eligible for a sentence longer than what is normally allowed.
The punishment for second-degree murder is life in prison with the possibility for parole. The extended sentence is life without parole.
Sakamoto has scheduled the same jurors who found Lankford guilty to hear evidence and arguments for an extended term May 27.
Wilkerson objected to using the same jury because he wants to talk to the jurors to find out if any of them participated in any misconduct.
In the hearing to determine whether Lankford is a danger to the community, Carlisle said he can introduce any evidence he feels is relevant, including evidence that was not allowed in trial. That would include, he said, "allegations that the defendant had a similar incident with another woman the year before this in exactly the same truck, attacks on his wife, attacks on cats and other animals."