The Supreme Court on Tuesday finalized Masumi Hayashi’s death sentence for killing four people with arsenic-laced curry at a 1998 summer festival in the city of Wakayama, rejecting her not-guilty plea and ending an almost decade-long trial.
Hayashi, 47, a former insurance saleswoman, was convicted at the district court level of killing the four and sickening 63 others who ate the poisoned curry, although there was no direct evidence to prove her involvement and no clear motive. Her sentence was upheld in a high court appeal. She was also convicted of trying to kill an acquaintance for insurance, as well as her husband, Kenji, 63, a pest exterminator, to collect on policies she had taken out on them.
In a statement released through her lawyers after the decision, Hayashi said: “There is a true culprit somewhere. I’m determined to clear myself of this false conviction.”
The top court’s Third Petty Bench said circumstantial evidence proves to “a degree that leaves no room for rational doubt” that Hayashi poisoned the curry and said the failure by the lower courts to clarify her motive “does not affect the judgment” that she did it.
Referring to the large impact the poisonings had on society, as well as Hayashi’s unrepentant attitude, the court added: “The defendant’s criminal responsibility is extremely serious . . . the (top) court has no choice but to approve the death sentence by the district court.”
Hayashi’s lawyers plan to petition for a retrial.
The district and high courts were unable to clarify Hayashi’s motive, but prosecutors insisted she was “infuriated by feeling alienated from housewives in the neighborhood” when she went to where the curry was being prepared on the day of the festival.
Hayashi’s counsel challenged in the top court the credibility of expert scientific analysis that showed the arsenic in the stew was identical to samples found in the defendant’s home and other locations linked to her, and of a neighbor’s testimony that she was left alone near the curry for a certain period.
After pleading not guilty when her Wakayama District Court trial opened in May 1999, Hayashi exercised her right to remain silent. In 2002, she was sentenced to hang.
She broke her silence during her Osaka High Court appeal, again declaring herself innocent. The high court in 2005 nonetheless upheld the sentence, prompting Hayashi’s Supreme Court appeal.
The high court also upheld her conviction for trying to murder her husband and a male acquaintance by using arsenic with the aim of obtaining insurance money.
Hayashi’s counsel was joined by Yoshihiro Yasuda, a well-known criminal lawyer and campaigner against the death penalty, at the top court stage.
The defense argued the investigators dealt with the arsenic samples in a lax manner.
The counsel also said it was possible the witness account of Hayashi minding the curry pots alone could have been mistaken and that in fact it was her daughter.
The counsel also noted Hayashi had no motive to commit a random killing.
Victims of the poisonings are still suffering from aftereffects of arsenic, with one woman saying, “I feel pain because of my deformed fingernails and toenails.”
The incident took place on July 25, 1998. A 10-year-old child and a 16-year-old high school girl were among those who died after eating the poisoned curry.
Hayashi’s husband was also convicted of insurance fraud and received a short prison term in the late 1990s.
In comments to the media after the final decision, Kenji Hayashi, now living by himself in a Wakayama apartment, said he is confident his wife is innocent.
“(The Supreme Court ruling) is regrettable because I’ve been trying to prove her innocence up till today,” he said before dressing down the entire criminal justice system. His claims covered the gamut from the “flawed police investigation” to the “bogus crime scenario cooked up by prosecutors” and the “false conviction” of his wife by all three courts.
“The Supreme Court only rubber-stamped the rulings of the lower courts and therefore is outrageous,” He said. “I will continue to do my utmost to support her and never give in.”