Judge to decide murder case


POSTED: Thursday, June 25, 2009

Accused baby killer Matthew Higa declared himself mentally fit to stand trial for second-degree murder yesterday and asked to be tried by a judge rather than a jury.

;[Preview]  Higa Found Mentally Fit To Stand Before A Jury

The man accused of throwing a toddler to his death off a freeway overpass is fit to stand trial, but is choosing to be tried by a judge.

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Circuit Judge Dexter Del Rosario granted Higa's request for a nonjury trial on charges of throwing 23-month-old Cyrus Belt from a pedestrian overpass into traffic on the H-1 freeway on Jan. 17, 2008. Del Rosario asked Higa a number of questions, including whether he was under the influence of any medication.

Higa, 24, said he was not.

Del Rosario scheduled trial for next January.

Higa's mental-fitness declaration was necessary for his prosecution to proceed because three mental health experts appointed to examine him split on whether Higa is fit for trial. Two found him fit, one found him unfit.

His lawyer, Randy Oyama, said he and Higa chose a bench trial because they don't think they can get an impartial jury.

“;A lot of people think that my client's conduct was reprehensible. And I understand why they're thinking (that),”; Oyama said. “;So I don't know if he could really get a fair trial with all this publicity out there.”;

Prosecutor Peter Carlisle said a nonjury trial will save time and money.

“;Picking the jury would take an extended period of time with individual voir dire. That would necessarily take a great deal of time and would have been an expensive proposition,”; he said.

Defendants typically choose nonjury trials when the prosecutor agrees the accused was insane and therefore not legally responsible for his or her actions. Carlisle said there is no such agreement in this case.

And two of the three experts said Higa was not insane at the time of the crime. They said his psychotic behavior was due to his admitted methamphetamine use. The third expert did not render an opinion.

Oyama said he is still exploring possible defenses, including insanity and mental incapacitation due to involuntary ingestion of narcotics.