SAITAMA – A woman pleaded not guilty Tuesday to murdering three male acquaintances in the course of swindling them in 2009 in a series of killings that drew huge public attention.
Kanae Kijima, 37, entered the not-guilty plea at the opening of her Saitama District Court lay judge trial, telling the three professional and six citizen judges, “I did not kill them.”
But she pleaded guilty to fraud charges for swindling money from two of the victims, whom she met via spouse-hunting websites and had, according to earlier reports, promised to marry them.
Police first arrested Kijima in September 2009 on suspicion of swindling money from a man in his 50s in Nagano Prefecture. Investigators eventually served her with another eight warrants.
Kijima has been charged with killing her boyfriend and businessman Yoshiyuki Oide, 41, in a parked car in Fujimi, Saitama Prefecture, in August 2009, staging the death to appear as a suicide involving the burning of “rentan” charcoal briquettes. His corpse turned up traces of sleep-inducing drugs.
She is also charged with killing Tokyo businessman Takao Terada, 53, another lover, in January that year in a similar manner, and slaying Kenzo Ando, 80, that May. Kijima allegedly visited Ando’s home in Noda, Chiba Prefecture, acting as a self-styled caretaker.
Kijima is also charged with fraud, attempted fraud and theft in a total of seven criminal cases.
Prosecutors said Kijima used the briquettes to gas the three men to make it appear they had committed suicide.
Kijima allegedly swindled money from men through spouse-hunting websites, promising she would marry them.
The three fatalities — Oide, Terada and Ando — had links with Kijima and died of carbon monoxide poisoning from the briquettes. Traces of sleep-inducing drugs were found in two of the corpses.
Judicial sources said, however, there is only circumstantial evidence to link the crimes with Kijima.
Presiding Judge Kazuyuki Okuma plans to hand down a ruling April 13 after the court hears from 63 witnesses over a period of some 100 days, which would make it the longest trial involving lay judges since the system was launched in 2009.