Defendant’s story held no credibility, observers say
It was a story meant to prove his innocence in the presumed murder of a missing Japanese visitor.
But in the end, Kirk Lankford's account of how Masumi Watanabe jumped to her death from his moving truck, how he hid her body to go back to work and attend church, and how he dumped her in the ocean out of fear he might lose his job cast him as the very type of meticulous killer he tried to show he was not, legal observers say.
Lankford, 23, a former pest control technician convicted yesterday of second-degree murder, testified he accidentally hit Watanabe, 21, with his work truck as she walked on Pupukea Road last April. He tried to drive Watanabe home, he said, but she leapt from his truck and hit her head on a roadside boulder.
"If you are going to claim there was an accident, what do people normally do? You call the police and tell them there has been an accident. You don't chop the body up or put it in bags or dump it in the ocean," said criminal defense lawyer Earle Partington. "None of it was believable. This all rang like some guy trying to lie his way out of a crime he committed."
Police also found no blood residue on the boulder in question, making Lankford's story harder to swallow, said Brook Hart, another criminal defense lawyer who followed the case.
The state's prosecution team, lacking a body, relied on a wealth of circumstantial evidence, including traces of blood with DNA that matched Watanabe's and her glasses in Lankford's truck.
"If in fact she had ... broken her head on those rocks, you would expect to find some residue of blood and hair," Hart said. "And that to me would have been strong evidence that Mr. Lankford's version of the facts was of substance, or perhaps was compelling."
Defense attorney Don Wilkerson labeled prosecution witnesses liars yesterday, including a police officer who said Lankford had stalked Watanabe, as well as an accident reconstruction expert who challenged Lankford's story.
He said he also was denied a request to bring in his own accident reconstruction expert.
"My client is innocent," he said, adding, "The prosecution was disingenuous. The prosecutor lied by presenting false testimony."
But criminal defense lawyer Michael Green believes it was Lankford's absence of emotion in the courtroom that ultimately swayed the jury.
In his closing remarks, city Prosecutor Peter Carlisle told jurors Lankford was manipulative, cunning and narcissistic.
"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," Green said. "When the defendant gets on the stand and is so cold and obviously uncaring about the facts, that corroborates the picture that is painted of the devil."