OSAKA – Masumi Hayashi broke her silence of more than five years Friday during her appeals trial in the Osaka High Court to deny that she had been left alone with the arsenic-laced curry that killed four people at a 1998 community festival in Wakayama.
The 42-year-old former insurance saleswoman answered questions from her defense team in a bid to be acquitted of the murder charges that resulted in her death sentence in December 2002.
Hayashi denied that she was alone with the curry stew pot at the time the arsenic is believed to have been mixed into the pot — the key point in the Wakayama District Court ruling that sentenced her to death.
She said she and one of her daughters were watching the pot from which the poisoned curry was served to the victims, contradicting the district court’s conclusion that she was the only person who had a chance to pour arsenic into the pot undetected.
Following her arrest several months after the incident, Hayashi hardly spoke when questioned by investigators, and after pleading not guilty in the opening session at the district court in May 1999, she remained silent for the remainder of the trial.
Hayashi was found guilty by the district court of killing four people, including two children, and making 63 others ill by putting arsenic in a curry stew at a festival in Wakayama on July 25, 1998.
There was no direct evidence linking Hayashi to the killings, and her lawyers argued she had neither the motive nor the opportunity to poison the stew.
But the district court concluded that the arsenic found in the curry pot was identical to arsenic powder discovered by investigators in Hayashi’s home and other places she had been. The pot was placed on a table in the garage of a local resident as members of the community took turns stirring the curry.
The presiding district court judge also said only Hayashi could have poisoned the stew, based on testimony by two local women that she was alone with the pot for about 40 minutes.
However, it brushed aside the prosecutors’ argument that Hayashi mixed in the poison in a fit of rage against her neighbors and concluded that the motive for her crime was not clear.
During the high court session on Friday, Hayashi’s lawyers asked her questions about her actions between 12:20 p.m. and 1 p.m. on that day — the period when it is estimated the arsenic was put in the curry.
Hayashi testified that she was keeping an eye on the curry for “about 20 to 30 minutes until around 1 p.m.” but said that her second daughter was with her the entire time.
The daughter tasted the curry at one point to see if it was good, but Hayashi said, “I never opened the pot or tasted the curry.”
Hayashi said that when she came to the garage, another local housewife was keeping watch over the pot. Then her daughter came to join her just after the housewife left the scene, which meant she was never alone with the curry.
One of the residents, who said she saw Hayashi alone near the curry pot, had testified earlier that Hayashi had long hair at the time of the incident. Hayashi said that she had had short hair.
Hayashi’s lawyers later told a news conference that the witness may have mistaken another woman for Hayashi.
Hayashi spoke eloquently as she explained her actions during the period the crime allegedly took place.
Hayashi looked in the direction of the public gallery with a faint smile on her face as she left the courtroom at the end of the day’s proceedings.
“Her words came out so smoothly. I wonder if she remembers what happened six years ago so clearly,” Yurie Torii, 53, mother of 16-year-old victim, Miyuki, told reporters after the court session.
Both the defense and the prosecutors plan to question Hayashi further during the trial. In the next high court session, the defense will continue questioning her.