Whoa, I missed this

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.

KITV Honolulu
Hawaii News Now
Hawaii Reporter
The Japan Times

Women, men and moving cars

Today I added the case of Shirley Clift, who disappeared from Oklahoma in 1980. Her ex-husband said she died after she jumped out of his moving car. His story is eerily similar to the one told by Kirk Lankford after he was accused of murdering Masumi Watanabe. It’s almost as if Kirk Lankford copied from Gary Clift. That’s not likely, though. I wonder if either of the men even expected anyone to believe their stories? If someone jumps from your moving car and dies, you call the cops. You don’t bury the body in a riverbank or dump it in the ocean.

Masumi Watanabe got justice, at least. Kirk Lankford will never see the light of day again. Justice is a small, weak and pale thing, but it’s better than what Shirley Clift got. Gary is still walking around free, probably married again to some poor woman, and his and Shirley’s daughter has to live with the knowledge that her father killed her mother. Here’s to hoping that something comes up in the Clift case — not necessarily her body, though of course that would be great — so her killer can go to prison where he belongs.