• Kyodo

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The Takamatsu High Court on Thursday made a rare decision to uphold a lower court ruling sentencing a 73-year-old woman to death for murdering her husband and an employee of the bar she ran as part of an insurance plot.

Court officials said the judgment was a rare, serious punishment for a defendant aged over 70.

Handing down the ruling on former bar manager Haruno Sakamoto, presiding Judge Toshio Shima said, “You claimed the death penalty runs contrary to the Constitution, but it does not.”

Sakamoto was convicted of smothering her husband, 54-year-old Junichi, with a cushion in their home in Muroto, Kochi Prefecture, in January 1987, aided by her sister and brother-in-law. She received 50 million yen in life insurance taken out on Junichi, the ruling said.

In a ruling handed down by the Kochi District Court on July 29, 1998, her sister, 60-year-old Yoshino Teraoka, and her husband, Kazutoshi, 67, were sentenced to life imprisonment.

The pair appealed against the sentence, but it was also upheld Thursday by the Takamatsu court.

The ruling also stated that in August 1992, Sakamoto hit her 60-year-old employee Keiko Yamashita about the head with a rock while she was sleeping, then smothered her and abandoned her body on a road after making it appear that she had been the victim of a traffic accident.

She committed the crime in conspiracy with former insurance agent Tadao Hamada, 69, according to the ruling.

Hamada was sentenced to 15 years in prison in the 1998 ruling, which was also upheld Thursday following his appeal.

Sakamoto was a beneficiary of Yamashita’s life insurance policy, but failed to receive a payout because authorities suspected her death came about as a result of foul play.

Katsunori Horiuchi, counsel for the accused, said she will appeal against the latest ruling.

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