I wrote about the April Pennington murder case a few times before. She was fifteen when she vanished from Connecticut in 1996; she sneaked out the window in the middle of the night to spend some time with a friend, and never came back. In April 2008, George Leniart was charged with her rape and murder.
Leniart has now been convicted. His defense pointed out that most of the witnesses against him were prison snitches with something to gain, and there was no physical evidence of a crime. But the circumstances — and Leniart’s history of sex crimes, including a rape that was very similar to how he supposedly killed April — were damning. He will serve life in prison without parole. This is apparently the first time in Connecticut history that a person was convicted of murder without a body or any physical evidence.
The Norwich Bulletin
My contact with the Phoenix Police Department emailed me saying Alison Marie Mims, a nineteen-year-old missing from Phoenix since 1980, has been found dead. Her partial remains were actually found in 1987 — he didn’t say where — but it wasn’t until now that they were identified, with the help of DNA.
Another informant says Michael Francis was identified in August. Back in June I wrote that they found his possible remains, but I didn’t hear anything else about it until now. Michael was 21 when he was abducted off the street, shot and forced into a car trunk. A man was charged with his murder, but at the first trial, the judge declared a mistrial due to prejudicial testimony; the second time the jury hung. I heard the third trial was to take place in December but I can’t find anything about it.
I just stumbled across the nearly year-old information that Kirk Lankford, the convicted killer of Masumi Watanabe, was sentenced to 150 years to life in prison. This was in April 2009, a year after he was convicted of second-degree murder. And the prosecution only asked for 120 years! Lankford will have to serve one-third of that time, or 50 years, before he can become eligible for parole.
I can’t say I blame the Hawaii Parole Board, which determines these things, for deciding on such a harsh sentence. Lankford didn’t even know Masumi, a tiny, painfully shy Japanese girl on an extended vacation in Hawaii. That he hit her with his car in dispute: the question is to why. Lankford waited until the eleventh hour to put forth the defense that he hit Masumi by accident and then panicked and tried to cover it up. Then when that defense was demolished, he just sat there and refused to disclose what really happened or where Masumi’s body is. He was offered a reduced sentencing if he would just say where he put her, but he turned it down. I think that’s because if we found Masumi’s body we would find proof that she was deliberately murdered.
On the surface he doesn’t seem to fit the profile for a violent random killer. He married young, was a devout Christian and had two little kids. He had a good job as a pest control technician. He had no criminal history as an adult. But the investigation showed he had been suspected of raping another small Japanese woman. She got his license plate number, but the case never went anywhere because she couldn’t ID him out of a lineup. The prosecution thinks he raped Masumi and beat her to death.
Given as Lankford is in his mid-twenties now, it’s extremely likely he will never see the light of day again. And good job of it, too.
Masumi’s family still hopes to recover her body. I feel very sorry for them. And for Lankford’s wife and kids — though they’re probably better off without him.
Hawaii News Now
The Japan Times