Convicted Killer Avoids State's Stiffest Punishment of Life Without Parole

Phillip DePorto
Phillip DePorto

HONOLULU (KHNL) -- A lack of evidence means a convicted killer will have a shot at freedom someday.

Honolulu prosecutors want Kirk Lankford to spend the rest of his life in prison. But the man convicted of murdering Japanese tourist Masumi Watanabe avoided the state's harshest sentence of life without the possibility of parole Monday.

The jury that convicted Lankford last month returned to court expecting to hear arguments on whether he should serve life without parole. But late in the day, prosecutors threw in the towel.

"All rise," the court clerk announced.

After much anticipation, the extended sentencing hearing for convicted murderer Kirk Lankford is over before it begins.

"At this time, the state will be withdrawing its motion for an extended term of imprisonment," Peter Carlisle, Honolulu prosecutor, said.

Prosecutors pull their request for the state's stiffest punishment of life without parole, after all three mental health experts who examined Lankford report there's not enough evidence showing he'll be a danger to the community in the future.

"This has been extremely emotionally draining on Mr. Lankford," Donald Wilkerson, defense attorney, said. "He is, he's in tears right now. He has lost everything because of this."

The former pest control technician maintains 21-year-old Masumi Watanabe died after she jumped out of his moving truck. Her body hasn't been found.

With nothing left to decide, the jury of four men and eight women is finally released from its duties. At least one juror says he's not too concerned about Lankford getting out of prison someday.

"It doesn't bother me that, the way that the case was presented and what the judge said, I fully believe in what he said and I accept that," Phillip DePorto, juror, said.

The defense still plans to appeal the verdict.

"The jury rushed to a conclusion," Wilkerson said. "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."

DePorto disagrees, saying jurors reviewed everything.

"Each person that got up to spoke, we talked about them," he said. "And then we decided, well, this one's good, this one's, we're not going to hold as much to this one. So we went through everyone. We did not leave anybody untouched."

Lankford will officially receive his sentence of life in prison with the chance of parole at the next hearing July 31st. It will be up to the Hawaii parole board to decide how much time he must serve before he's eligible for release.