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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Hayashi loses appeal over curry poisonings

Staff writer

OSAKA — Masumi Hayashi must hang for murdering four people and injuring 63 others with arsenic-laced curry at a Wakayama summer festival seven years ago, the Osaka High Court ruled Tuesday, upholding a lower court verdict.

News photo
Masumi Hayashi

The Wakayama District Court in December 2002 sentenced Hayashi, 43, an ex-insurance saleswoman, to death after convicting her of killing the four, including two children, injuring the 63, and attempting to fatally poison her husband, Kenji, and another acquaintance in connection with separate cases of insurance fraud.

Hayashi had pleaded not guilty to putting arsenic into the curry pots during a summer festival in her neighborhood on July 25, 1998.

Looking much thinner than when she was arrested and smiling nervously, Hayashi sat fidgeting while presiding Judge Kazuhisa Shirai read out the verdict: "Given the facts, there is no room for doubt that Hayashi committed the crime."

Though concluding the motive behind the curry-poisonings was "unknown," the high court said Hayashi had intent to kill in lacing the stew because "she acknowledged fully the risk of arsenic."

The judge also dismissed her plea of innocence, saying her previous statements about her whereabouts at the time of the crime and her denial of the ability to carry out the crime can't be trusted.

She claimed to have been with a neighbor and had no opportunity to poison the curry. But other neighbors said she was alone with the pots for some time.

"Based on the testimony of the local residents, the time of the crime was when the defendant was alone," Shirai said. "The defendant made up facts to suit her convenience."

Lacking a confession, the district court relied heavily on circumstantial evidence, concluding the arsenic in the curry matched powder found at Hayashi's home and other places she had been and that she was the only one who had an opportunity to poison the stew.

Hayashi's husband, a former exterminator, had used arsenic in his business. The couple had been tried separately on various counts of insurance fraud, including, on her part, the alleged used of arsenic on her husband and the other acquaintance.

Her husband, who was also convicted of insurance fraud, recently declared, however, that he did not believe his wife had tried to kill him or had poisoned the curry.

Hayashi pleaded not guilty when her district court trial began in May 1999 but later exercised her constitutional right to remain silent, until she finally spoke out last June, denying any guilt during the appeals trial. Kenichi Yamaguchi, Hayashi's lead defense attorney, immediately announced that the verdict would be appealed to the Supreme Court.

"The High Court did not rule on any of the new evidence we presented," he said. "Nor did the court consider the testimony of her husband, saying it was untrustworthy. The court seemed to decide she was guilty from the beginning."

Information from Kyodo added

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