In court: Proving a murder occurred even when there’s no body

Kirk Lankford was convicted in 2008 for the murder of a woman whose body was never found. The prosecution of his case may bear similarities to the case against Steven Capobianco for the murder of Carly Scott.

Not guilty.

That’s the plea from the ex-boyfriend of a missing pregnant Maui woman, who’s accused of killing her.

Steven Capobianco appeared in a Maui court room Tuesday morning, after being indicted on charges of murder and arson in the death of Carly Scott.

The case is similar in several ways to one tried in Honolulu six years ago.

It is March of 2008 and the jury in the trial against Kirk Lankford is led out into the area where the prosecutor says the murder occurred.

The victim is a visitor from Japan, Masumi Watanabe, and then-City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle needs to prove that Lankford killed her, but he is missing a critical piece of evidence.

The Maui courtroom will hear certain elements that were similar to what the Lankford jury faced in Honolulu. In both cases, the victims were women, both were reportedly last seen in a remote area, and their bodies have not been recovered.

When asked how does a prosecutor go about trying this type of case against someone charged with murder, Carlisle said, “first off, a circumstantial evidence case is inevitable if you don’t have a body, so all of the information will be circumstantial. So, frankly, all of the stuff that you hear on TV that you can’t try a person on circumstantial evidence is completely untrue. You can.”

Carlisle proved that when he tried the case against Lankford.

Carlisle says a prosecutor can turn to circumstantial evidence, which he believes is critical. The prosecution can also rely on lab work or forensics, as well as evidence gathered from learning about the history of the victim, as well as the perpetrator.

In the Capobiano/Scott case, there were numerous searches conducted on Maui to find her.

Carlisle said in the Lankford case, authorities first eliminated all opportunities that Watanabe was actually missing, then worked the possibility of homicide, gathering evidence to show intent and opportunity to kill.

“So if you see the missing person, and you see the perpetrator, and at some point, they are in close proximity to each other at the time the person goes missing,” Carlisle said, “then there is a reason to believe that there may be foul play.”

Finally, Carlisle suggests that the Maui prosecutor do as he did years ago: find out all you can about the history of both the victim and the person charged with her murder.

“And take a look at this person’s history in terms of what he’s done to this person, this woman, or other women.”

As for Lankford, he was ultimately convicted of the murder of Watanabe, and in July of 2008, was sentenced to life in prison.

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