“I’ll kill you,” Kiyoshi Higashi said. The assault rifle in his hand underlined the threat.
It was a toy of sorts; an Airsoft model that fired plastic pellets. The Auburn man staring at the barrel didn’t know. Higashi accused the man of ripping off his younger sister, who stood nearby.
The weapon looked lethal. The man slammed the sliding glass door shut and ran inside, shouting, “He’s got an AK!” according to an account from court records.
It was Aug. 3, 2008, and Higashi, then 20, was in trouble again. Arrest came the next day, followed by a conviction for residential burglary.
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Five months earlier, he had choked his father, Alan Higashi, to the point of unconsciousness, and been convicted of third-degree assault.
Before that, there had been 15 convictions for assorted offenses, dating back to 1999. He had been in trouble since the age of 11.
He is in far greater trouble now, charged with first-degree murder in the death of James Sanders, the 43-year-old Edgewood father shot to death during an April 28 home-invasion robbery.
Whether Higashi, now 22, fired the fatal shots is unclear; he denied wrongdoing during a jailhouse interview with a KING-TV reporter last week. He is one of four suspects in the case, all facing the same charge, regardless of who fired the killing shots.
“If my son pulled the trigger, everyone there is involved and vice versa,” Alan Higashi told KIRO-TV last week.
The other suspects are Clabon T. Berniard, 23, who turned himself in to police Thursday; Amanda C. Knight, 21, who turned herself in Tuesday; and Joshua N. Reese, 20, arrested along with Higashi after a traffic stop last week in California.
Evidence gathered during the stop included a gun.
Knight’s prior record shows only traffic offenses. Berniard has two prior felony convictions; but investigators don’t think he fired the shots that killed Sanders.
Pierce County sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer, choosing his words carefully during a radio interview last week, said detectives believed one of the two suspects held in California was the shooter. That meant Higashi or Reese.
Prosecutors continue to deflect the question; their suspicions could take clearer shape Monday, when Higashi, Reese and Berniard are scheduled to appear in Superior Court for arraignment on the murder charges.
Whatever prosecutors conclude, the web of circumstance is closing around Higashi, tying him to a group of thieves who selected their victims from online classified ads.
‘NOT A LEADER’
Alan Higashi has suggested his son took cues from Reese, his co-defendant.
“He’s not a leader, he’s a follower,” the father said.
Kiyoshi Higashi leads Reese in one category: convictions.
His record of 18 prior felonies and misdemeanors is twice as long as Reese’s, and stretches back more than a decade. It includes multiple assaults, one with sexual motivation, and a conviction for animal cruelty.
While under supervision by the state Department of Corrections, he was classified as a high risk and violent.
He’s 6 feet 1, 185 pounds. In photos posted on his MySpace pages, he fans wads of cash.
Reese is the younger of the two: 7 inches shorter, 50 pounds lighter. His rap sheet starts in 2007. He has seven misdemeanor convictions and two felonies. The first was tied to a car theft. In 2008, he was a passenger in a stolen car and ran from police who chased him. A few weeks later, he snatched a portable video game out of a teenager’s hand and ran, earning a conviction for theft.
The Corrections Department classified Reese as high risk, but also characterized him as nonviolent.
Court records from the Edgewood investigation reveal a trail of recovered evidence tying Higashi to the robbery and an April 25 home invasion robbery in Lake Stevens that followed the same pattern.
A search warrant affidavit filed by sheriff’s detectives notes Higashi returned to his father’s home in Tacoma after the Edgewood robbery.
While in jail in California, he called his father and admitted involvement, records state.
The victim had been shot by another defendant, but “it wasn’t supposed to go that way,” Higashi reportedly said.
Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486 firstname.lastname@example.org