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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hawaii toddler looked lifeless as he was thrown, witness says

By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Matthew Higa’s trial yesterday shifted to defense testimony after the prosecution rested its case.

CRAIG T. KOJIMA | Pool photo

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Jimmy Aliven

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A passenger in the truck that hit 23-month-old Cyrus Belt after he was thrown from a freeway overpass testified yesterday the boy appeared dead or unconscious before he hit the pavement.

Matthew Higa, 24, is accused of murdering the toddler on Jan. 17, 2008.

Jimmy Aliven was the first defense witness called to the stand after Prosecutor Peter Carlisle rested his case against Higa.

"I believe he was already dead when he was falling down," Aliven said yesterday.

Aliven said he believed that because the child was not moving when he passed in front of the windshield and was not bleeding after the collision.

The next witness, pathologist Dr. James Navin, also said he believed the toddler was dead when Higa hurled him from the Miller Street overpass in the Punchbowl area to H-1 Freeway 30 feet blow.

Navin said a laceration to the child's face showed no evidence of bleeding.

But Navin acknowledged that bleeding may not occur in cases of "sudden, instant death."

Deputy Honolulu Medical Examiner Dr. Gayle Suzuki had testified earlier that the results of her autopsy showed the boy was killed by falling to the freeway and being hit by the 2-ton delivery truck.

Suzuki also cited testimony from a witness who said the boy was "cartwheeling" in the air with his arms out to his sides and his legs apart .

That showed muscular control of the limbs, Suzuki said.

But Navin said he interpreted the cartwheeling description to mean the boy was spinning around in a helicopter motion. In that case, the arms would have been held away from the body by centrifugal force, Navin said.

However, the witness who described the cartwheeling, Kraig Hengst, indicated that the boy was rotating vertically in the air rather than horizontally.

Earlier in the day, a police homicide detective testified that Higa said after he was arrested that Cyrus was alive and moving when he was thrown off the overpass.

The defendant told the detective that Cyrus "was alive, yelling and crying and moving his arms and legs" when Higa took him to the overpass, Carlisle said.

Higa also told the detective "he knew the baby was likely dead as a result of being thrown from the overpass," Carlisle said.

Defense attorney Randy Oyama has argued in court papers that Higa's statements may have been "confabulation," a psychiatric phenomenon in which "the mind creates an alternative scenario to fill gaps in memory caused by mental disease or defect."

The nonjury trial, conducted before Circuit Judge Dexter Del Rosario, began Monday and is moving quickly.

The prosecution and defense agreed ahead of time on the admissibility of much of the evidence, including transcripts of statements from some witnesses, rather than live testimony.

Today the trial is in recess and Oyama will call more witnesses tomorrow, including Nancy Chanco, mother of Cyrus Belt.