Lankford account challenged
By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Mary Vorsino
City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle worked yesterday to chip away at murder defendant Kirk Lankford's description of how Masumi Watanabe died, showing jurors new police swabs for blood in his truck bed and elsewhere that seemed not to match his story.
Lankford, 23, testified last week that he tried to drive Watanabe home after he accidentally sideswiped her with his truck as she stood by the side of Pupukea Road the morning of April 12, 2007. He said she had only minor injuries after the accident, but died when she became frantic and dived out of his moving truck, hitting her head on a rock on the side of the road.
Fearful of losing his job, Lankford said, he then put Watanabe's body in his Hauoli Pest Control truck bed and completed a day of work.
But Carlisle presented evidence yesterday that showed no blood was found in new tests of Lankford's truck bed — where Watanabe was said to have been bleeding from a severe head wound — and rocks in the area where Lankford told jurors Watanabe hit her head.
The tests were done on March 24 and April 1 of this year.
In addition to the swabbings, police said they covered Lankford's truck bed with a substance that shines luminescent if it comes in contact with blood. Nothing conclusive was found. And the only DNA sample that did come up was found on a tube in the truck bed, apparently used for pest control, that would have been regularly touched (with DNA traces left behind by sweat).
Police who testified said the DNA sample was inconclusive and could not be linked to Watanabe.
It could not even be determined whether the DNA belonged to a man or a woman.
The absence of blood or Watanabe's DNA in the truck bed does not rule out Lankford's description of Watanabe's death, but it does bring into question his story.
Even if Lankford cleaned out the truck bed with bleach, police said, there probably would have been some trace of blood.
Lankford has testified that he cleaned the tailgate area, but not the truck bed, with bleach.
Walter Fung, of the Honolulu Police Department, added that bleach emits a luminescence of its own when it comes in contact with the material that police use to pinpoint the presence of blood and DNA. There was no luminescence from bleach detected in the truck bed or portions of the tailgate, he said.
Neither blood nor DNA was found on eight swabs of rocks on Makana Road, where Watanabe was said to have hit her head. But defense attorney Donald Wilkerson argued — and Carlisle also pointed out to jurors — that blood would likely not have remained after a year of exposure to the elements.
In cross-examination, Wilkerson questioned Fung on why he and his team tested for blood on Lankford's truck bed liner but not underneath it. Under the liner, which Wilkerson pointed out could have been easily removed, are small grooves where blood would have pooled, he said.
Fung responded that a section of the bare truck bed was tested and no blood was found.
But Wilkerson said blood could have pooled elsewhere in the bed.
"As far as you know," Wilkerson said, "there could be blood under there."
Also yesterday, Wilkerson questioned Kenneth Baker, the prosecution's accident reconstruction expert, who earlier testified that Lankford's description of how Watanabe was slightly injured when his truck sideswiped her was a "physical impossibility." Baker said Watanabe, a petite 21-year-old Japanese national, would have suffered severe injuries when she was hit by the truck.
Baker didn't waver from the contention yesterday, even after three hours of cross-examination, during which Wilkerson scrutinized Baker's reconstruction drawings, arithmetic and thinking he used to come to his conclusion. Baker also earlier testified that Watanabe would have had difficulty opening the truck door at the speed Lankford described he was traveling — 35 to 40 mph — because it was also negotiating a curve in the road that would have pressed her toward the driver's side of the vehicle.
During cross-examination, Baker did concede that a portion of the stretch is straight.
But he said it still would have been difficult for her to get out of the truck in the way Lankford described.
The trial is to resume tomorrow morning.
Closing arguments could be delivered tomorrow or Thursday.
The trial entered its seventh week yesterday as Watanabe's family prepares to mark the first anniversary since her disappearance with a memorial service at Kawaiaha'o Church. Watanabe's family will attend the service Saturday from 10 to 11 a.m. For more information, go to www.findmasumi.org.
Reach Mary Vorsino at email@example.com.