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Japan’s ‘black widow’ serial killer gets death sentence

Kyodo

A serial killer dubbed the “black widow” was handed a death sentence Tuesday over the murders of her husband and two common-law partners, as well as the attempted murder of an acquaintance, between 2007 and 2013.

The ruling by the Kyoto District Court came despite a not guilty plea by the defense counsel of Chisako Kakehi, 70, citing a lack of physical evidence. The defense had also argued that Kakehi could not be held responsible as she had developed symptoms of early-onset dementia at the time of the murders.

“It was a heinous crime driven by greed for money. The death sentence cannot be avoided even after fully taking into account dementia and other factors,” presiding Judge Ayako Nakagawa said in the ruling.

According to the ruling, Kakehi murdered her 75-year-old husband, Isao, common-law partners Masanori Honda, 71, and Minoru Hioki, 75, and tried to kill acquaintance Toshiaki Suehiro, 79, by having them drink cyanide.

Nakagawa said Kakehi “made light of human lives” as she repeatedly committed the killings, adding that she offered “almost no words of apology” and had not reflected on her crimes.

The court underlined that Kakehi did not suffer dementia when she committed the last crime in December 2013.

Prosecutors had maintained that in all four cases, the victims were tricked into drinking cyanide given to them by a debt-ridden Kakehi, who had sought to inherit their assets.

Shortly after the ruling, Kakehi’s lawyers filed an appeal with a higher court, suggesting the high-profile trial could yet drag on.

Calling her actions “shrewd and despicable,” prosecutors had said Kakehi had planned the crimes in advance — including the preparation of notary documents — tricking the victims into drinking the cyanide by passing it off as a health cocktail.

Defense lawyers, however, argued that Kakehi could not be held responsible, saying her dementia had progressed and that she was unable to comprehend that she was defending herself at trial.

First diagnosed with mild dementia in 2016, Kakehi said she had trouble remembering events shortly after her arrest. The doctor who made the diagnosis, however, said Kekehi could be held legally responsible for any crimes committed during that time.

The defense also claimed that there was a possibility some of the victims had died from disease or by different drugs or poisons, noting that some of the victims had not undergone legal autopsies.

In the case’s first public hearing, Kakehi said she would leave everything to her lawyers, but her statements during proceedings lacked coherence, including a stunning confession that she had killed her husband in 2013.

Kakehi was first arrested in November 2014 and indicted the following month on a charge of killing her husband, who died at the couple’s home in Muko, Kyoto Prefecture, in December 2013, about a month after their marriage. She was later indicted in connection with the deaths of the two other men.

Kakehi first wed at the age of 24, launching a fabric-printing company in Osaka Prefecture with her first husband. But following his death in 1994, the business went bankrupt and her house was put up for auction, prompting her to 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 ($87,900). She married or was associated with more than 10 men and inherited about ¥1 billion, though she eventually fell into debt following dabbles into the stock market and futures trading.

The trial was held under the nation’s lay judge system, which involves citizen judges. Having opened in June, it was the second-longest of its kind, with 135 days spent examining the case.

More than 500 people lined up in front of the courthouse to get a ticket to observe the hearing.