Hawaii tot's killer gets life term for throwing child off overpass
By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer
The 2008 murder of toddler Cyrus Belt is a crime that should "live in infamy for decades" and killer Matthew Higa should die in prison for committing it, Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle said in court yesterday.
Higa, 24, was high on crystal methamphetamine when he threw the 23-month-old boy to his death from a freeway overpass Jan. 17, 2008.
"By leaving him in prison until his death, he will be an ongoing example of methamphetamine use, abuse, addiction and intoxication," Carlisle said.
Circuit Judge Dexter Del Rosario sentenced Higa to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
He must serve at least 15 years before being considered for parole.
Carlisle said he will petition the Hawai'i Paroling Authority to set Higa's minimum term of imprisonment at 200 years.
"There's a lot of things that are sad about this young man. But the nature of his crime and the nature of the circumstances that he lived in clearly and unequivocally indicate that he will always be a risk to public safety," Carlisle said.
The murder trial underscored the widespread use of crystal meth — commonly known as "ice" — in Island society. Witness after witness, including Higa's father and Cyrus' mother, testified that they smoked the drug with each other and with the killer in the hours and days before the boy was murdered.
Cyrus lived with his mother, grandfather and his mother's boyfriend in the same Punchbowl-area apartment building where Higa lived with his father.
Higa's father, Shelton, was in court yesterday but left without comment after the sentence was pronounced.
Del Rosario found Higa guilty of second-degree murder Feb. 11 at the close of a nonjury trial.
The defendant did not testify during the trial and was silent again yesterday.
His lawyer, Randall Oyama, told Del Rosario he had instructed Higa not to address the court because of a planned appeal.
Oyama repeated arguments made during the trial that witness testimony and forensic evidence indicated the boy was dead or unconscious before he was tossed from the Miller Street overpass just blocks from the state Capitol and City Hall.
Oyama withdrew as Higa's lawyer at the close of yesterday's hearing because Higa and his father no longer have the money to pay him.
But Oyama said he will assist the public defender's office in appealing the conviction.
"I have a hard time understanding why there's no doubt in this case about my client's guilt," Oyama said outside court.
"All the evidence seems to suggest that death may have occurred pre-fall."
Higa, who has been held at O'ahu Community Correctional Center, "is nervous" about being transferred to Hālawa Correctional Facility, Oyama said.
"He's heard a lot of stories about it there. He's very worried," the lawyer said.
No members of the dead child's family testified at yesterday's sentencing hearing.
"It doesn't surprise me that they're not here," Carlisle said.
"In terms of the surrounding members of the family of this child, for all intents and purposes they were always more with crystal meth than they were with the kid," said the prosecutor.