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Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012
Difficult case tests lay judges
At the Saitama District Court on Jan. 10, six lay judges — three men and three women — together with three professional judges started to deal with not only three murder cases but also with seven other cases involving the defendant, Ms. Kanae Kijima — fraud, attempted fraud and theft.
Ms. Kijima pleaded guilty to fraud charges of swindling two men of money but pleaded not guilty to the murder charges. As to the murder charges, there are no confessions and no concrete evidence linking her to the murders.
The lay judges have to attend court sessions about four days a week. Six more people were picked as supplementary lay judges to serve as backups. The lay judges will be subjected to great stress and pressure. They have to hear accounts by 63 witnesses. The trial is expected to last 100 days — the longest for lay judges since lay judge trials started in 2009. The court will hand down a ruling on April 13.
The professional judge should repeatedly explain to the lay judges in an easy-to-understand way the principle of "No punishment will be meted out when there is uncertainty about guilt" and the standards for judging that a defendant is guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
In the first hearing, the prosecution said that Kijima, though jobless, lived a luxurious life and registered herself with spouse-hunting websites to swindle men out of money. It then said that she killed the three men in 2009 by means of carbon monoxide poisoning through the burning of rentan coal briquettes in order to end her relationships with them.
The prosecution also said that by using rentan, she made the murders appear like suicides. It also said that traces of sleep-inducing drugs were detected in two of the three victims. A 53-year-old victim died on Jan. 30 or 31, an 80-year-old victim on May 15 and a 41-year-old victim on Aug. 5, the prosecution said.
The defense counsel said that there is a strong possibility that the three men killed themselves or made a mistake in handling the coal and that Ms. Kijima was seriously looking for a spouse.
Since this is a complex, difficult trial, the prosecution and the defense counsel should make clear, easy-to-understand arguments. Judicial authorities should learn hints from this trial on how to improve the lay judge system, including reducing the pressure on lay judges.