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Originally published May 4, 2010 at 4:18 PM | Page modified May 5, 2010 at 2:13 PM

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3 arrested, another still sought in Pierce County home-invasion killing

Pierce County sheriff's detectives have identified and charged three suspects in last week's home-invasion robbery that killed an Edgewood man. Tuesday, they were still working to identify the fourth.

Seattle Times staff reporters

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Source: Craigslist.org

KING 5 | Charlene Sanders speaks

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Two men and a woman were charged Tuesday with murder in last week's home-invasion robbery in which a 43-year-old Pierce County man was fatally shot in front of his wife and two young sons, law-enforcement officials said.

All three were being held on first-degree murder charges in the slaying last Wednesday night of James Sanders, who was killed in his Edgewood home while discussing the sale of a 1.07-carat diamond ring he had listed on Craigslist.

The three also were charged with first-degree robbery, as well as second-degree assault in connection with the pistol-whipping of Sanders' 14-year-old son. Charging papers also say Sanders' wife was kicked in the head while her hands were bound behind her back.

Kiyoshi A. Higashi, 22, and Joshua N. Reese, 20, both of Tacoma, were being held in Daly City, Calif., where they were arrested Saturday on unrelated charges, including weapons offenses, after a traffic stop by police, according to the Pierce County Sheriff's Department.

Also arrested at the same time was Amanda C. Knight, 21, of Sumner, who posted bail the same day and left California. She surrendered to Sumner police Tuesday evening and was being held in the Pierce County Jail, according to sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer.

A third man involved in the home-invasion robbery has not been apprehended and is identified in charging papers only as "John Doe." He also was charged with first-degree murder, first-degree robbery and second-degree assault.

"These people are heinous," Troyer said during a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

Police in Lake Stevens also say Knight has been linked to a home-invasion robbery in that town on April 25, three days before the Edgewood slaying. Lake Stevens Police Chief Randy Celori said that Knight used her driver's license to pawn items in Auburn that had been stolen during that robbery.

Celori said Knight is "definitely a suspect" in the Lake Stevens robbery, as are Reese and Higashi.

Stopped in California

After the traffic stop in Daly City, California authorities notified the Pierce County Sheriff's Department Sunday of the arrests of Higashi, Reese and Knight, saying they had been traveling in a white Ford Crown Victoria car with a Washington state license plate, according to law-enforcement officials.

Daly City police Detective Albert Cisneros said a patrol officer stopped the car around noon Saturday because it lacked a front license plate. As the officer walked up to the car, the passenger in the front seat — later identified as Reese — tried to get out, he said.

The officer ordered Reese back into the vehicle, Cisneros said.

Reese then handed the back-seat passenger — later identified as Higashi — his jacket before the officer walked up to the car. The officer asked Reese his name and was given a false name that didn't show up in any database, Cisneros said.

The officer found marijuana on Reese, according to Cisneros. The officer also found a driver's license listing Reese's name in the jacket he had handed to Higashi. Police quickly learned Reese was wanted on a warrant issued by the Washington state Department of Corrections in December, Cisneros said.

Reese, who had been under DOC supervision for an earlier conviction, had failed to obey terms of his release, according to DOC.

Officers also found a handgun under the seat of the Crown Victoria.

Knight, the driver, was described by Daly City police as cooperative during the traffic stop. She gave an officer permission to search her backpack. When the officer found ammunition inside, she denied knowing where it had come from, Cisneros said.

A call from a tipster

On Monday, the Pierce County Sheriff's Department received a tip from a caller who reported that she had been at the Tacoma home of Higashi's father, Alan Higashi, when he received a phone call from his son.

The tipster, who wasn't identified, said the son called from a jail in California and told his father that California police had seized the gun used in the Edgewood robbery, according to the charging papers.

The tipster said the son told his family that Knight went to the door in Edgewood to "buy the ring," and that he and Reese pistol-whipped a "kid" and another male shot James Sanders, charging papers allege. According to the tipster, the son told his family "it wasn't supposed to go that way," the charging papers say.

The same day as the tipster's call, sheriff's detectives showed a montage of photographs to Sanders' widow, Charlene Sanders, that included photographs of Higashi, Reese and Knight. She identified Higashi and Knight as two of the intruders, charging papers say.

UPDATE, 9:42 a.m., May 4: Alan Higashi, 48, was arrested last night and booked into the Pierce County Jail for investigation of obstruction of justice, a misdemeanor, according to jail records. Higashi allegedly obstructed law enforcement officers who were executing a search warrant at his home, Pierce County Deputy Prosecutor Mary Robnett said Tuesday morning.

Higashi and Reese are awaiting extradition to Washington and have been interviewed by Pierce County sheriff's detectives, the Sheriff's Department said.

Sanders' brother-in-law, Tim Jorgensen, said Tuesday that he and his sister were alerted earlier in the day that three suspects had been identified.

"I'm still reacting. I'm a little freaked out. We're surviving, we're hanging in there," he said.

"We want to thank the community for the wonderful output, we want to thank the Pierce County Sheriff's Department and thank the media for putting this out there," Jorgensen said.

Higashi, who has a previous third-degree assault conviction in Pierce County, has been reporting regularly to his Department of Corrections community corrections officer and was considered compliant until this week, said Chad Lewis, the agency's spokesman.

He last reported on April 7 and hasn't missed an appointment, Lewis said. Higashi also served eight months in prison for residential burglary.

Reese was being supervised by DOC after a first-degree theft conviction in King County. DOC issued a warrant for his arrest in December after "he failed to obey all laws," Lewis said.

Looking for more links

Shortly after the Edgewood robbery, a Pierce County sheriff's spokesman said the same four people may also be responsible for the Lake Stevens home-invasion robbery.

In that case, two men went to the door of a Lake Stevens home where someone had posted a Craigslist ad listing a flat-screen TV for sale. The men entered, brandished weapons and let two additional people in.

The family members were tied up, the home was ransacked and numerous valuable items — including electronics, jewelry and a large amount of Iraqi currency in $5,000 denominations — were taken, police said.

No one was injured, according to police there.

The Pierce County Sheriff's Office also was investigating whether there is a link between the two home-invasion robberies and a third Craigslist-related robbery earlier last Wednesday.

According to police, a Pierce County man who had placed an online ad offering his car for sale was tied up by someone posing as a buyer, who then stole the car.

In the Edgewood case, the Sheriff's Department said a woman called James Sanders to ask about the diamond ring he was selling on Craigslist. Sanders, described by friends and family as a trusting, devout Christian, gave the woman the address to his home east of Tacoma.

When the woman and a male companion arrived last Wednesday night, Sanders stepped outside to show them the heirloom ring, Tarrinna Payseno, a family friend, said last week.

"They said they were interested and showed him their money," Payseno said. "Then Jim let them in."

According to charging papers, the man and woman came inside and they agreed on a price.

The man then pulled out a handgun and the two zip-tied James and Charlene Sanders with their hands behind their backs, the charging papers say.

Two more men entered the house; one went upstairs and brought the couple's sons downstairs, according to the charging papers.

"One of the men kicked Charlene Sanders at least twice in the head and told her to stop looking at them," the papers say.

One of the assailants started hitting James Sanders in the head with a gun, and the 14-year-old son tried to intervene, according to the charging papers.

A gunman then "pistol whipped the child, causing bruising, abrasions and a concussion," the papers say.

James Sanders broke his hands free and tried to defend his son. He was shot three times — in the knee, the thigh and the back of the right shoulder, prosecutors say.

The intruders took Charlene Sanders' wedding ring off her finger, the charging papers say.

The female intruder had ransacked various rooms of the home and the four left with cellphones, a laptop computer, jewelry and other items, charging papers say.

Payseno, the family friend, said the robbers kept saying, 'Where's the safe? Where's the safe?' and they [the Sanderses] were saying, 'What safe?' "

Seattle Times news researchers Miyoko Wolf, David Turim and Gene Balk contributed to this report, which includes information from Times archives

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com

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