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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 6, 2008

Lankford might argue accident

Photo galleryPhoto gallery: Masumi murder trial

By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Fumiko Watanabe was unable to identify glasses found in defendant Kirk Lankford's truck as those her missing daughter was wearing.

Photos by DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Kirk M. Lankford, shown in court yesterday, is accused of killing 21-year-old Masumi Watanabe. Her body was never found.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Masumi Watanabe

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Accused murderer Kirk Lankford may argue that he accidentally struck Masumi Watanabe with his truck while she was walking along Pupukea Road in April 2007.

The 21-year-old visitor from Japan disappeared while walking along the road that day and Lankford is accused of killing her and disposing of her body.

In the second day of Lankford's murder trial, his lawyer asked Watanabe's mother if her daughter would have accepted a ride from a stranger if she had been "accidentally hit" by a truck and needed medical help.

Testifying through an interpreter, Fumiko Watanabe said, "If she was hit by (the) truck and could not move and needed to go to the hospital, then she might get into (the) truck."

In a pretrial motion, defense lawyer Donald Wilkerson said he intended to call an "accident reconstruction expert," Clyde Colburn, to testify as a defense expert witness in the trial.

Wilkerson did not deliver an opening statement to the nine-woman, three-man jury and yesterday's questions to Fumiko Watanabe were the first indication of the defense strategy in the case.

The two principal prosecution witnesses yesterday were the victim's mother and a relative living on O'ahu, Yumi Miura, who played host to the young victim during the last three months of her life.

Fumiko Watanabe described her daughter as an extremely shy young woman who was visiting relatives in Hawai'i as part of a family plan to help her grow more independent and outgoing.

She initially testified that her daughter would not have spoken to a stranger and would never have gotten into a stranger's vehicle.

Masumi Watanabe spoke no English and never talked to anyone she didn't know, her mother said.

Miura, who was related to the victim through marriage, said Masumi Watanabe stayed at her family's home for a month in 2006 and returned in February 2007 for a three-month stay.

Miura described her younger relative as so introverted and shy that, when she first arrived here, she would only go swimming at the beach if she was fully clothed.

By April 2007, however, Masumi Watanabe was wearing a bathing suit for family outings to the beach, Miura said.

The younger woman also spoke with Miura about plans to return to Japan and live independently in an apartment of her own.

Miura said that the morning Watanabe disappeared was like most others in the family home in Pupukea Heights. Watanabe rose about 6:20 a.m., made breakfast and performed regular chores before joining Miura on a ride to Sunset Beach Elementary School, where Miura dropped off her three children.

On the way home, Miura testified, she dropped Watanabe off at a spot on Pupukea Road that the young woman had been using as a starting point for half-hour walks back to the Miura residence.

Those walks were another sign of the young woman's growing self-confidence, Miura said on the witness stand. When she first moved in with the family, Watanabe would never walk unaccompanied and would only walk at night because of fear that she might encounter someone she didn't know, according to Miura.

Defense lawyer Wilkerson pressed both witnesses yesterday on their inability to firmly identify a pair of prescription glasses found by police in Lankford's truck as the same pair of silver-framed glasses that Watanabe was wearing the morning she disappeared.

More testimony on the glasses is expected from prosecution witnesses.

Reach Jim Dooley at jdooley@honoluluadvertiser.com.