Lankford gets parole option
Prosecutors withdraw their bid to keep the convicted murderer behind bars forever
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Convicted murderer Kirk Matthew Lankford will have the opportunity for eventual parole after he is sentenced to a mandatory life prison term in July.
But Lankford, 23, will probably have to wait 40 years before he is eligible, said his lawyer, Don Wilkerson.
City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle withdrew his request yesterday for an extended sentence of life without the possibility for parole. Carlisle did so after consulting with the prosecution's psychological expert, who examined Lankford and determined he would not be able to prove that Lankford met the legal requirements for the harsher sentence.
Wilkerson said the experts hired by the defense, court and prosecution all reached the same conclusion.
The jurors who convicted Lankford last month of killing Japanese visitor Masumi Watanabe in 2007 were supposed to start hearing testimony yesterday to decide whether he was eligible for a sentence longer than what is normally allowed by law.
The sentence for second-degree murder is mandatory life in prison with the possibility for parole. Circuit Judge Karl Sakamoto will sentence Lankford on July 31.
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The jurors who convicted Kirk Matthew Lankford for the murder of missing Japanese visitor Masumi Watanabe last month will not hear allegations that Lankford assaulted another woman in his work truck in 2006, abused his wife or killed cats.
The jurors will also not learn of Lankford's juvenile criminal record on the mainland.
Circuit Judge Karl Sakamoto discharged the jurors yesterday after city Prosecutor Peter Carlisle withdrew his request to have Lankford sentenced to life in prison without the possibility for parole. On July 31, Sakamoto is scheduled to impose the mandatory sentence for second-degree murder of life in prison with the possibility for parole.
The jurors were to begin hearing evidence and testimony yesterday on whether Lankford poses a danger to others and deserves the harsher penalty to protect the public from him.
Carlisle said he decided he would not be able to prove his case to the jury after consulting the forensic psychologist he hired to examine Lankford and who determined he would not be able to prove that Lankford is a dangerous person.
"In my mind, the pragmatic effect is that it moves the battle from the courtroom to the parole board," Carlisle said.
Lankford's lawyer, Don Wilkerson, has said he expects the Hawaii Paroling Authority will require Lankford to serve 40 years in prison before he will be eligible for parole.
The court and defense each hired their own experts to perform a psychiatric or psychological examination of Lankford and all three found him not dangerous, Wilkerson said.
"And if he's not dangerous, then he didn't murder anyone," he said.
Wilkerson said Lankford maintains his innocence and will file an appeal of the jury's verdict after Sakamoto hands down the sentence. Wilkerson said he believes the jury rushed to judgment.
"They had hundreds and hundreds of exhibits to review and they only spent a day and a half on it. I don't think they did their duty," he said.
Juror Phillip De Porto disagrees.
"We went through everything very thoroughly," he said. "We reviewed every single person that spoke."
De Porto said the jurors also reviewed all of the notes they took during the five weeks of trial.
He said inconsistencies in Lankford's account of what happened caused jurors to question his story.
"I felt that he might have deceived some people," De Porto said. "His testimony, I took everything with a grain of salt."
Lankford said he accidentally struck Watanabe with his work truck, causing minor injuries. As he was driving her around looking for her home, he said Watanabe dove out of the truck, struck her head on a rock and died. He said he disposed of her body in the ocean out of fear of losing his job.
Lankford's mother, Patricia "Trish" Sander, and older brother were in court yesterday.
Sander offered an apology to the Watanabes on behalf of the Lankford family.
"I want to say we're very sorry for how horribly, horribly Kirk handled all of this," Sander said.
She said her son is a good person who has helped people on Oahu. Once her son revealed what happened to Watanabe, they tried to tell his story before trial to police and prosecutors, but they refused to listen, she said.