• Kyodo

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The Sapporo District Court on Wednesday acquitted a former bar hostess of a 1998 charge of murdering a 9-year-old Sapporo boy but ruled she caused his death after kidnapping him in 1984 and confining him in her home.

Kazuko Kudo, 45, from the town of Shizunai in Hokkaido, was arrested in November 1998 on suspicion of murdering Hidenori Jomaru, who disappeared on Jan. 10, 1984.

Prosecutors had demanded a life prison term. Kudo was arrested only two months before the statute of limitations for murder ran out. The statutes for other offenses, including causing bodily injury resulting in death, had run out by 1998.

It is unknown how the child died, but bones found in June 1988 at Kudo’s former residence were those of Jomaru, presiding Judge Manabu Sato said, noting the defendant caused his death after luring him from his home and confining him.

However, evidence presented by prosecutors was not convincing enough “to determine that Kudo intentionally killed the boy,” said Sato, who ruled it was also insufficient to prove she had kidnapped the child to exact a ransom from his wealthy family.

It is believed the court strictly abided by criminal justice rules — if there is even a slight doubt of guilt, the accused should be acquitted.

Kudo maintained her innocence and refused about 400 times in court to answer questions, claiming she had nothing to say.

Despite a lack of direct evidence tying Kudo to murder, prosecutors maintained that the roughly 200 items of circumstantial evidence were enough to establish guilt.

According to the prosecutors, Kudo called the boy’s home, tricked him into coming out, and then confined him at her house in the town of Shin-Totsukawa and killed him by the evening of Jan. 10 out of fear that police would learn what she had done.

Bones found in a barn at the home after a fire destroyed the residence in 1987, killing Kudo’s husband, matched the boy’s DNA, according to police analysis done in 1998.

Police conducted another DNA test on the bones last May following a court order, and the results linked the remains to a DNA sample provided by Jomaru’s mother.

Defense lawyers noted the cause of the boy’s death was unknown, and said the DNA tests were unreliable and financial problems Kudo was experiencing at the time were not serious enough to lead her to kidnap someone.

Before the court ruled, Jomaru’s father, Takashi, 57, called for the death sentence.

He later said he hoped prosecutors would appeal the ruling.

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