Higa guilty of murder - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Judge finds Higa guilty of murdering toddler, prosecutors want extended prison term

Matthew Higa Matthew Higa
Peter Carlisle Peter Carlisle
Dexter Del Rosario Dexter Del Rosario

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An Oahu judge on Thursday found Matthew Higa guilty of murdering a toddler by throwing him off a freeway overpass two years ago.

The defendant waived a jury trial in the highly-publicized case. The dead boy's mother, the defendant's father and the lead homicide investigator in the case were among those in the packed courtroom, as Circuit Judge Dexter Del Rosario announced his much-anticipated verdict.

Wearing a blue aloha shirt covered with pictures of beer bottles, Matthew Higa became a convicted child killer.

"The state has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that on January 17th, 2008, in the city and county of Honolulu, state of Hawaii, Matthew Higa did intentionally or knowingly caused the death of Cyrus Belt," the judge ruled.

Cyrus Belt was 23 months old, when Higa threw him off a bridge and onto the H-1 Freeway three stories down. A delivery truck then ran over him.

At trial, witnesses testified the falling toddler looked like a lifeless doll. The defense argued that's because the boy was already dead at the hands of someone else.

Prosecutors were confident the verdict would go their way.

"I think it's somewhat anticipated because of the strength of the state's case," Carlisle said. "A lot of people have asked about whether there was some sort of mental defense that could have been tendered, and the answer to that, in my opinion, is no."

The trial revealed that nearly every adult in young Cyrus' life, including the defendant who was his neighbor, was a crystal meth user. The toddler's mother, Nancy Chanco, admitted she was smoking ice and gambling away money the day he died.

"I can't imagine someone being amazed that something like this could happen in Hawaii," Carlisle said. "But it is yet again testimony to the horrific nature of crystal methamphetamine."

Chanco left the courthouse in tears. The convicted murderer's father, as well as his attorney, also had no comment.

The judge also ruled Higa knew his victim was under the age of eight. That's important to prosecutors because it allows them to seek an extended sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

"This is a case that destroyed a child's life because of crystal methamphetamine," Carlisle said. "It destroyed the lives of everybody surrounding the child and now it's destroyed the defendant's life as well."

If the sentencing enhancement is rejected, prosecutors say they'll ask the Hawaii parole board to set a high minimum term -- 200 years -- before Higa can even be considered for release. A date for the sentencing phase has not been set.

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