• Kyodo

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A 70-year-old woman dubbed the “black widow” for allegedly murdering her husband and common-law partners with cyanide, pleaded innocent Monday at the first hearing of her trial at the Kyoto District Court.

“I entirely entrust the matter to my lawyers,” Chisako Kakehi told the court. The defense team denied the charges of murder and attempted murder-robbery involving four elderly men and said the plaintiff has dementia and cannot defend herself.

Prosecutors aim to use circumstantial evidence to prove Kakehi’s guilt amid a dearth of physical evidence, and more than 50 people are expected to be summoned as witnesses during the trial, which is likely to last until Nov. 7.

Kakehi admitted during the investigation to using cyanide capsules to poison the four victims, but her defense team later withdrew the admission and changed her plea to not guilty.

More than 10 men romantically involved with or associated with Kakehi are known to have died, allowing her to inherit an estimated ¥1 billion, investigative sources said.

According to the indictment, Kakehi slew her 75-year-old husband, Isao, and common-law partners Masanori Honda, 71, and Minoru Hioki, 75, and tried to kill acquaintance Toshiaki Suehiro, 79, by having them drink cyanide at various times between 2007 and 2013.

At the hearing presided over by Judge Ayako Nakagawa, prosecutors claimed that she committed the crimes for the purpose of inheriting their wealth, saying she once called a business to get it to open the safe of one of the victims the day after he died.

“The victims in the four cases are all elderly men and died from potassium cyanide poisoning. Their conditions and causes of death are so similar,” the prosecutors said.

The prosecutors did not clarify how she obtained the cyanide.

Kakehi was first arrested in November 2014 and indicted the following month on a charge of killing Isao, who died at the couple’s home in Muko, Kyoto Prefecture, in December 2013. They had married the previous month. She was later indicted in connection with the deaths of the three other men.

Kakehi, a native of Fukuoka Prefecture, was 24 when she first got married and soon after launched a fabric printing factory in Osaka Prefecture with him. But, following his death around 1994, the factory went bankrupt and her house was put up for auction, forcing her to tearfully ask neighbors for a loan.

She later registered with a matchmaking service, specifically asking to meet wealthy men with an annual income of more than ¥10 million.

Despite having assets worth over ¥1 billion, she later fell into debt after dabbling in stocks and futures trading.

The major points of contention in the trial are whether the victims’ deaths were caused by ingesting a cyanide compound, the credibility of Kakehi’s confession, and whether she is mentally competent to be held responsible for her suspected crimes.

“Since she is suffering from dementia, she barely remembers things that happened recently let alone the incidents,” her defense team said at the hearing, adding that it will fight all charges against her.

Kakehi listened to the proceedings with headphones, apparently due to hearing difficulties.

At the expected 135 days, the case is set to become the second-longest trial held under the lay judge system, which makes use of citizen judges.

More than 600 people lined up on the morning of the first hearing to get a ticket to the high-profile trial.

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