Lankford sentencing to include ’06 incident
A judge allows the state to use the alleged assault in seeking a life term without parole
A husband and wife who responded to a woman's screams near Roosevelt High School in February 2006 told police the screams came from a woman in a Hauoli Termite & Pest Control truck with license plate 742-TRE.
The truck was assigned to Kirk Matthew Lankford, who used the same truck in the murder of Masumi Watanabe more than a year later.
Circuit Judge Karl Sakamoto ruled yesterday that the state can tell jurors about the earlier incident even though Lankford was never charged with any crime in connection to it. Police opened a sexual-assault investigation and questioned Lankford, but did not file any charges.
The same jury that found Lankford guilty last month of second-degree murder in the Watanabe case will begin hearing testimony and evidence Monday to determine whether Lankford will be eligible for parole. Sakamoto said the hearing could last two to three weeks.
The normal sentence for second-degree murder is life in prison with the possibility of parole. The state is asking Sakamoto to sentence Lankford to life in prison without the possibility for parole because he poses a danger to others.
Sakamoto denied the state's request to tell jurors about the 2006 incident during the trial. However, for sentencing purposes, Sakamoto said he is satisfied the state has enough evidence that a crime probably occurred and that Lankford probably committed it. Since Lankford was never charged in the case, there was no previous judicial determination of probable cause.
City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle said when Lankford was questioned by police, he told them he had exclusive use of the truck. Carlisle said Hauoli officials will back that up and say that no other employee matched witness descriptions of the assailant.
Lankford's lawyer Don Wilkerson objected to not being allowed to present evidence to prevent the jurors from hearing about the incident. He said the witnesses told police the assailant had blond hair cut military style. The alleged victim also told police her assailant told her he was in the military and that he had been drinking earlier in the evening.
Wilkerson said at the time of the alleged incident, Lankford's hair was long on top, not cut military style, and that he does not drink alcohol.
Sakamoto said he is not making a determination of guilt; rather, he said he is making the evidence available for the jury to make that determination.
The jurors are also expected to hear about acts of animal cruelty Lankford allegedly committed on cats and testimony from Lankford's wife that her husband allegedly abused her. The jurors are also expected to hear from a psychologist or psychiatrist hired by the court to examine Lankford.
Watanabe, a 21-year-old visitor from Japan, was last seen alive April 12, 2007. Her body has not been found.