Six lay judges — three men and three women — and three professional judges of the Saitama District Court on April 13 sentenced Ms. Kanae Kijima to death for murdering three of her lovers by burning coal briquettes (rentan) in heaters to cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

Since the high-profile trial lacked confessions and concrete evidence linking the 37-year-old woman to the murders, the lay judges served 100 days on the case — the longest period since the lay judge system was introduced in 2009. The ruling was the 14th death sentence, and the first given to a women, in a lay judge trial.

The trial has shown that citizens need to be prepared to fulfill the heavy responsibility that the lay judge system imposes on them. Each citizen needs to remember that by serving as a lay judge, he or she participates in building a society based on the rule of law.

During the trial, 36 hearings were held and a total of 60 witnesses appeared before the court. The defendant was questioned for a total of 60 hours over 11 days.

Ms. Kijima met three men — ages 53, 80 and 41, respectively — through spouse-hunting websites. The first man died Jan. 30 or 31, 2009; the second on May 15, 2009; and the third on Aug. 5, 2009. The prosecution alleged that she received large sums of money from each of the men to help maintain her in a luxurious lifestyle, then killed each one to end the relationship. The prosecutors said that by using rentan, she tried to make the murders look like suicides.

Building a case against Ms. Kijima on the strength of circumstantial evidence, the prosecution said the amount of rentan she purchased as well as the makers of the rentan matched what was found at the crime scenes where the victims’ bodies were found. There was no evidence to show that the victims had purchased rentan or had reason to commit suicide.

The prosecution also said that traces of sleep-inducing drugs were detected in two of the victims and that there was no evidence to indicate that they had obtained the drugs on their own. The judges carefully examined this circumstantial evidence and concluded that Ms. Kijima was guilty.

The police must examine their attitudes more closely because their improper actions, including a failure to carry out an autopsy, made the trial more difficult. If they had acted properly from the start of the investigation, they would have been able to collect direct evidence that could have been used in the trial.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.