A jury Tuesday convicted the first defendant to go to trial in the death of Jim Sanders, who was gunned down in his Edgewood home by people who targeted him for robbery after seeing a Craigslist post advertising a diamond ring for sale.
Jurors deliberated for just a few hours before finding 23-year-old Kiyoshi Higashi guilty as charged of first-degree murder, first-degree burglary and two counts each of second-degree assault and first-degree robbery.
They also found he was armed with a firearm on each count and determined his crimes were worse than normal, which qualifies him for a sentence higher than the standard range.
In Higashi’s case, that could be life in prison.
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He showed no outward emotion as Pierce County Superior Court Judge Rosanne Buckner read the verdicts, and he refused to sign his court paperwork.
Relatives and friends of Sanders, including his widow, Charlene, exchanged hugs with prosecutors and detectives after court adjourned and Higashi was led to jail in handcuffs to await his Friday sentencing.
“I have to live with the consequences of their actions, and so do they,” a tearful Charlene Sanders said outside court.
Prosecutors argued at trial that Higashi and co-defendant Amanda Knight posed as potential buyers for the ring on April 28, 2010. After entering the Sanders home, Higashi pulled out a gun, and he and Knight bound Jim and Charlene Sanders with plastic ties.
They then signaled two men waiting outside, prosecutors said. Those men – Clabon Berniard and Joshua Reese – entered the house and herded the Sanders’ two school-aged sons at gunpoint into the kitchen with their parents, prosecutors allege.
Jim and Charlene Sanders were beaten and threatened with death before Jim Sanders, 43, broke free of the plastic ties binding his hands and fought with the robbers, witnesses testified during the weeklong trial.
It was then he was shot.
Prosecutors argued Higashi shot Sanders, a contention the defendant denied when he took the stand in his own defense Monday.
It didn’t really matter. By law, Higashi could be found guilty of the murder for taking part in a robbery that ended up with someone dead.
Knight, Berniard and Reese have pleaded not guilty to murder and other charges and await trial.
During her closing argument Tuesday, deputy prosecutor Karen Watson spent nearly an hour outlining for the jury the evidence she said showed Higashi was guilty.
She pointed to testimony given by witnesses – including Charlene Sanders and the two boys – plus detectives and experts.
Higashi’s ex-girlfriend Jenna Ford also testified against him, recounting how he came to her house the night Sanders died and told her, “I killed someone tonight,” Watson told the jury.
The deputy prosecutor also argued that Higashi’s crimes were aggravated by deliberate cruelty, sophisticated planning and an egregious lack of remorse on his part.
“This home-invasion robbery was all about violence,” Watson argued.
She equated what happened to the family as “torment.”
Before his attorney gave his closing argument, Higashi once more asked Buckner to allow him to represent himself for the remainder of his trial. The judge, as she did Monday, said no.
Defense attorney Michael Jordan then all but conceded his client was guilty of the underlying crimes.
Higashi’s confession to detectives after his arrest and his admissions on the witness stand Monday pretty much sealed his fate, Jordan told jurors during his closing argument.
“He is going to prison,” Jordan said. “He must know that by now.”
But the attorney argued that the jury should not apply the aggravating factors.
He said the robbery was not sophisticated but an ill-conceived crime hatched by “four idiots.” Higashi also has expressed remorse, Jordan argued, and there is no evidence he was deliberately cruel.
His client helped detectives track down a ring Higashi stole during the robbery so Charlene Sanders could get it back, Jordan said.
He also downplayed Higashi’s behavior on the witness stand when he came across as combative, defensive and callous. That was a show of toughness from a man headed to the unforgiving environs of state prison, Jordan said.