Having failed in a bid to represent himself in his first-degree murder trial Monday, Kiyoshi Higashi decided to take the witness stand instead.
The jury reacted very little to Higashi’s sometimes rambling, sometimes combative, sometimes self-pitying testimony, so it was difficult to say whether his gambit succeeded.
He tried to hammer two points home in his time on the stand. First, he wasn’t the one who shot Edgewood resident Jim Sanders to death in April 2010. Second, he was sorry someone else did.
Who shot Sanders might be immaterial for Higashi, who admitted he took part in the home-invasion robbery in which the 43-year-old Sanders died while defending his wife and two children. Pierce County prosecutors contend Higashi is guilty of first-degree murder for taking part in a robbery in which someone died, even if he didn’t pull the trigger.
The second point – Higashi’s level of remorse – is important. Prosecutors intend to argue he showed an “egregious lack of remorse” in the wake of the shooting and therefore deserves a sentence higher than the standard range.
Higashi is the first of four defendants to go to trial in the death of Sanders, who was killed in his home by people responding to a Craigslist post advertising some jewelry for sale.
In addition to murder, Higashi also is charged with burglary, robbery and assault.
The state rested its case Monday morning after calling witnesses for a week. Higashi then told Superior Court Judge Rosanne Buckner he wanted to fire his lawyer, Michael Jordan, and represent himself.
Buckner said no, that interrupting the trial at that point would violate the orderly administration of justice.
Jordan then called his one and only witness – Higashi.
During his testimony before a packed courtroom, the 23-year-old defendant alternated between contrition and defiance, saying he was at the home the night Sanders died but did not, as prosecutors allege, shoot the man.
“Obviously I had some part in it,” Higashi said of the robbery. “But I wasn’t in the room when Mr. Sanders was shot.”
Higashi also testified that the image of him portrayed by prosecutors and witnesses – that of a narcissistic killer – is wrong. He pointed out that family and friends who love him have attended his trial and continue to support him.
“They don’t love me because I’m a monster,” he said.
Higashi also said he felt bad about what happened to Sanders, pointing out he cried during his statement to detectives.
“I’ve made some mistakes. I regret those things,” he testified. “I’m sorry for what we done. Obviously, it wasn’t right.”
Deputy prosecutor Mary Rob-nett then started her cross-examination, which quickly turned Higashi testy. He frequently tried to provoke Robnett by asking her whether she’d heard his previous testimony and equivocating with some of his answers.
Higashi, radiating attitude, said the robbery wasn’t “any set person’s idea” and that he was not friends with the other co-defendants.
“A friend would tell you not to do something like this,” Higashi said.
Robnett asked whether one of his co-defendants – Amanda Knight – took plastic ties into the house to bind Sanders and his wife.
“You would have to ask her that,” he said. “Obviously, I’m not Amanda.”
Robnett asked him whether he knew who shot Sanders.
“No, I don’t know,” Higashi said.
She asked whether another codefendant, Clabon Berniard, hit Sanders’ wife, Charlene Sanders, in the head during the robbery.
“Yeah. I told him to stop,” he testified.
Then Robnett asked whether he knew who hit Sanders’ son, James Sanders Jr., 14, over the head with a pistol during a confrontation in the house.
Higashi said he knew.
Robnett asked for a name.
“That’s your job to find out,” he replied.
“I’m doing my job. Answer the question,” said Robnett, who then asked Buckner to direct Higashi to answer.
The judge did so.
“Willy Foo Foo,” he said.
Robnett asked him if he thought that was funny.
“At some point later in my life I probably will,” Higashi replied.
Robnett later asked Higashi about statements he made last June to staff members at Western State Hospital, where he was undergoing an evaluation to determine whether he was competent to stand trial.
Higashi told evaluators he would kill everyone in the house that night if given a second chance, among other things.
The defendant testified he made the statements to try to make himself appear mentally imbalanced in an attempt to help his case. He didn’t mean them, he said.
Robnett then asked him whether he told the evaluators Sanders’ death was a case of “suicide by armed robber.”
“It was suicide by armed robber,” Higashi said.
Closing arguments are set for today.