Fears grew for suspect in Craigslist slaying

Kiyoshi Higashi felt optimistic the day after being booked into the Pierce County Jail on suspicion of murdering an Edgewood man during a home-invasion robbery.

In a telephone call home that morning, he talked about how he thought he might get as little as seven years in prison for his role in the death of James Sanders.

“When it comes down to it, I’m going to try to get it dropped to manslaughter,” Higashi told his 18-year-old girlfriend during a recorded call from the jail May 9. “The best that can happen to me is I get seven years.

“If they offered me seven years right now, I’d sign that (expletive) so fast.” Grim reality set in for Higashi the next day when he made his first appearance in Superior Court and learned the charges against him. On May 11, he called home and spoke to one of his three sisters.

“I got six gun enhancements,” an agitated Higashi said. “That’s five years per enhancement. That’s 30 years right there. Plus the murder’s 30 years. There goes 60 years. Plus each one of the robberies is seven. There goes 74 years. Plus the burglary is seven more. There goes 81. Plus two more years for each one of the assaults.

“There goes 85 years! I’m cooked. I’ll never get out.”

The News Tribune recently obtained through a public records request recordings of 25 calls Higashi made from the jail between May 8 and May 18.

Many of the calls lasted for the maximum 20 minutes allowed and cost the recipients $2.29 each. Others lasted less than 30 seconds when an answering machine picked up.

Throughout the calls, Higashi denied to friends and relatives that he shot Sanders, as authorities allege, but admitted he took part in the fatal robbery April 28.

He also caught up with family members, discussed the possibility of marrying his girlfriend in a jailhouse ceremony and talked fondly about his first airplane ride – his extradition flight from California to Washington.

“That (expletive) is nuts!” Higashi said of flying.

He also occasionally expressed remorse for his actions the day Sanders died while trying to defend his family from four people who entered his house under the guise of buying a diamond ring Sanders had advertised on Craigslist.

“In all reality, they didn’t deserve it either, though, you know?” Higashi told his girlfriend May 18. “They didn’t deserve that stuff to happen to them. I guess if it makes them feel better, I’ve got to sit here for the rest of my life.”

Higashi, 22, is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree burglary and two counts each of first-degree robbery and second-degree assault.

Clabon Berniard, 23, and Joshua Nathan Reese, 21, face identical charges. Amanda Knight, 22, is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree robbery and two counts of first-degree assault.

They’ve all pleaded not guilty and remain in jail, pending trial.

Another of Higashi’s girlfriends, Jenna Ford, also 18, is charged with three counts of first-degree rendering criminal assistance for allegedly helping Higashi and his friends after the robbery. She has pleaded not guilty and remains jailed.

In a May 8 call to his sister, Higashi asked whether she was shocked when she realized he was involved in Sanders’ death.

“Hell, yeah,” she replied. “Every time I still hear about it, it’s depressing.”

Higashi said he’s been depressed, too.

“I think I cried every day, but it’s not like there’s much I can do anymore,” he said. “I didn’t intend it.”

Higashi later put the blame on Berniard for firing the fatal shots at Sanders. Sheriff’s investigators believe Higashi killed Sanders.

On May 9, Higashi talked to his girlfriend, who brought up the idea of the two of them getting married.

He laughed.

“I don’t think it’s going to be beneficial for me to be in any kind of a relationship,” Higashi said.

The woman disagreed, saying that if he’s married he can get conjugal visits in prison.

“I’m going to be here for a long time,” Higashi said.

The next day – May 10 – Higashi made his first appearance in court. He called his sister on May 11, and she informed him that area news outlets were naming him “the triggerman.”

“Why they say that?” Higashi asked. He then denied shooting Sanders.

“It really doesn’t matter. Everybody’s getting charged with the same (expletive),” Higashi said. “I’m still never going to get out of jail. I can try to plead a diminished capacity due to intoxication, but that’s the only way I can see around it. But I don’t think it’s going to work.”

He talked to his girlfriend later that night.

“I think the hardest thing is my dad’s going to pass away, and I’ll be in jail and won’t be able to attend his funeral and stuff, you know?” he said. “I don’t know how I’m going to deal with that when the time comes.”

His girlfriend asked how he’s spending his time.

“I just read, read the Bible and write letters and stuff like that and look at my case, try to see what we can do,” Higashi replied.

In a May 13 call to his sister, he discussed the possibility of making a deal with prosecutors.

“I’m hoping they’ll throw me a deal, 30 years or something,” Higashi said. “Get out when I’m 50-something. It’s better than not getting out.”

He went on to say a sentence of 85 years would be too much for him to handle and said he might request the death penalty instead. His sister told him his charge doesn’t qualify for capital punishment.

“I know, but that’s what they should give me if they’re going to give me 85 years,” Higashi said. “Kill me.”

Three days later, Higashi told his girlfriend that he doesn’t think he’s a bad person.

“(Expletive) happens, you know?” he said

“You’re going to have to do your time for it,” the girlfriend responded.

“My life,” he said. “But I guess I’ll make it, you feel me? At least until my daddy dies.”

On May 18, Higashi told his girlfriend he and his lawyer are cooking up something. He said he was going on TV to explain “my life story.”

“Everybody gets a chance to see who I am, that I’m not a super bad person,” Higashi said. He appeared on “Inside Edition” soon thereafter.

Higashi and the young woman then talk about the crime.

“I don’t understand. Why was there even a gun involved?” the girlfriend asked. “I know it probably was to scare them, but why was it loaded?”

“I don’t know,” Higashi replied.