Alleged shooter convicted and sentenced to life
by Robert A. Waters
For a year, career criminal Kiyoshi Higashi, 22, lay in jail brooding about his fate. At first, he was optimistic—he thought he might escape with only a charge of manslaughter and get maybe seven years. But the charges kept piling up. Robbery. Burglary. Assault. First degree murder. Finally, in March, 2011, Higashi was convicted and sentenced to 109 years in prison.
Higashi learned the hard way that when you murder a hard-working father for no reason, there’s little forgiveness in the justice system. But still he should consider himself lucky--had he lived in many states, he would have been sentenced to death.
The murder went down on the night of April 28, 2010.
James and Charlene Sanders of Edgewood, Washington, had a diamond ring they wanted to sell. James placed an ad in Craigslist, asking $1,050. According to police reports and court testimony, Amanda Knight, 21, called James and asked if she and her husband could come over and look at the ring. Charlene said Knight “disarmed” James by stating that she wanted to purchase it for her mother-in-law for Mother’s Day.
Knight, Higashi, Joshua Nathan Reese, 20, and Clabon Terrel Berniard, 23, arrived at the Sanders home shortly after 9:00 p.m. Knight and Higashi knocked on the door while the others hid outside. James, who had been upstairs with his family, let the couple in to show them the ring and called Charlene downstairs. After a brief discussion, James asked: “Do you want the ring?” Knight said yes. Higashi pulled out a wad of cash and asked, “How’s this?” “Fine,” James said. “Well, how about this?” Higashi said, and pulled out a handgun.
In the chaos that followed, Reese and Berniard rushed into the house and raced upstairs where they found the Sanders’ two sons, Jimmy, 14, and Chandler, 10. Forcing the children to join their parents downstairs, each member of the family was restrained with zip-ties.
In an interview with Today’s host Meredith Vieira, Charlene said, “I could feel rushing around. My husband and I were looking at each other, panicking, saying, ‘Just take it, take it, take anything you want.’ We just kept chanting it: ‘Take it.’ Then all of a sudden we’re getting zip-tied and put down on the floor in the kitchen. I could tell that people had been rushing in.”
Court documents describe what happened next: one gunman began pistol-whipping James while another intruder kicked Charlene in the head. Fourteen-year-old Jimmy jumped on the back of the man beating James, but was tossed to the floor and pistol-whipped himself. In a monumental act of courage, James broke free of his restraints and rushed to aid his son, but was shot three times—in the knee, the back and the right shoulder. According to the documents, while the violent confrontation was taking place in the living room, Amanda Knight calmly ransacked the home, stealing cell phones, a laptop computer, and jewelry. In fact, the invaders even took Charlene’s wedding rings off her fingers.
She later told reporters: "I had a gun to the back of my head with a countdown - three, two - and I'm just screaming and my kids are standing there, and I'm saying, please, God, don't let them kill me, don't let them kill my kids."
After her husband was shot, she held him and prayed that he would live. She said, “I just kept saying, ‘Honey, stay with me. Stay with us. Stay with us. Don’t go. Don’t go.’ And he was just barely gasping for air, and he was all white. He was starting to get white. I saw that half his ear was shot off and I thought maybe he’s just in shock. That’s why he’s white.”
Cops didn’t have far to look for suspects. Except for Knight, the three had spent most of their young lives committing crimes and being arrested. Each had spent time in prison. Higashi was on community supervision by the state Department of Corrections when he committed the crime. His record included arrests for assault, arson, theft, burglary, robbery—in fact, he’d been a regular in the criminal justice system since he was 11. Reese had convictions for felony auto theft and first-degree theft. Berniard had 20 convictions for assault, criminal trespass, burglary, and theft.
The crime struck a chord in the Tacoma, Washington area. While many reporters focused on the Craigslist angle, some residents considered those involved. The suspects seemed to have no direction in life except for a continued search for thrills and money. None seemed remorseful. Many residents wondered how these three thugs could still be on the streets with all the crimes they’d committed over the years.
On the other hand, Jim Sanders was a decent hard-working family man. He attended church, taught a Bible class, and spent time teaching his children to live peaceably with others. In the past, like millions of others, he’d sold items on Craigslist.
Amanda Knight was also convicted in April, 2011, and sentenced to 71 years in prison. The trials of the other suspects will take place later this year. But nothing can replace the husband and father lost in a senseless act of violence.