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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 5, 2010

Killer will keep chance at parole

By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Peter Carlisle

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Matthew Higa

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City prosecutors won't seek a life-without-parole sentence for convicted child killer Matthew Higa.

Prosecuting Attorney Peter Carlisle announced the decision yesterday afternoon but pledged to still ask the courts and parole authorities to imprison Higa for the rest of his life.

Higa, 24, was convicted of second-degree murder for throwing 23-month-old Cyrus Belt to his death from an H-1 Freeway overpass in the Punchbowl area on Jan. 17, 2008.

The second-degree charge carries a punishment of life with the possibility of parole.

After the Feb. 11 verdict, Carlisle filed a motion to deny Higa a chance at parole. But, under a sentencing law enacted in 2007, a jury must be empaneled to consider requests for such extended terms of imprisonment even in cases like the Higa trial, in which the presence of a jury was waived and a judge found the defendant guilty.

Carlisle yesterday said that means that witnesses from the trial would be required to come back and testify again in front of a sentencing jury.

"That could create all sorts of inconsistencies (and) discrepancies particularly with some of the witnesses who were, as you know, addicted to crystal methamphetamine," Carlisle said.

"That would give a golden opportunity for review on appeal to give problems for the state," he said.

Proceeding with sentencing on the second-degree murder conviction would avoid those problems, Carlisle said.

He said his office wants "to preserve the verdict, which we think is extremely important in this case."

Carlisle said that even if Higa is eligible for parole, prosecutors will ask the Hawaii Paroling Authority to rule that Higa won't be considered for release from prison for at least 200 years.

"I have no guarantee as to what the Paroling Authority is going to do," Carlisle said. "But, looking at their history, I'm confident that they would do something that would befit the seriousness of this case."

Circuit Judge Dexter Del Rosario will sentence Higa later this year.