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Wednesday, 11 December, 2002, 14:16 GMT
Japan's 'curry killer' sentenced to death
Masumi Hayashi
Masumi Hayashi refused to testify
A Japanese woman has been found guilty of murdering four people and injuring 63 others by serving them arsenic-laced curry at a village festival in 1998.

Masumi Hayashi, 41, was sentenced to hang by a district court in the prefecture of Wakayama, 450 kilometres (280 miles) west of Tokyo, where the poisoning took place.

Hayashi's lawyers immediately appealed the case to the Osaka High Court, local media reported.

The case has gripped Japan, and more than 2,200 people arrived at the court on Wednesday to try to hear the verdict, a court spokesman told AFP news agency.

The poisoning also sparked a rash of copycat incidents across Japan.

Tight-lipped

Hayashi denied she was responsible for the curry poisoning at the start of her trial in May 1999, but has since refused to testify.

Prosecutors have failed to supply concrete proof of her guilt, relying instead on circumstantial evidence.

Hayashi, a mother of four, was found guilty of mixing arsenic into a curry served at a summer festival in the Sonobe district of Wakayama.

Chemical experts had testified that the arsenic found in the curry was "the same product" as the arsenic kept at Hayashi's house by her husband Kenji, who worked as a termite exterminator.

Judge Ikuo Ogawa said that Hayashi had looked after the curry pot on her own during the time in which it was presumed the poisoning took place.

"There was no-one among the people in the area who had such opportunity to put arsenic into the pot but the defendant," Judge Ogawa told the court.

The key prosecution witnesses included a high-school girl who said she had seen Hayashi "walking around the pots like a bear" in the garage of the house where the curry was cooked.

Motivation

Prosecutors argued that Hayashi, a former insurance saleswoman, was motivated by anger towards her neighbours, who reportedly shunned her.

Hayashi's husband is currently serving a six-year term for insurance fraud.

Hayashi has been held in jail since she was arrested in October 1998.

In May 2000 she was rushed to hospital after swallowing metal nails, apparently during the course of a nervous breakdown.

According to the rights group Amnesty International, there are at least 118 people currently on death row in Japan, some 50 of whom have had their sentences upheld and can be executed at any time.

Prisoners are informed they are going to be executed less than two hours before they are hanged, AI says, and family and friends are not told in advance.

In recent weeks the Japan Federation of Bar Associations has called for a moratorium on executions so a public debate can be held on Japan's capital punishment policy.

See also:

30 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
13 May 99 | Asia-Pacific
31 Dec 98 | Asia-Pacific
05 Oct 98 | Asia-Pacific
23 Sep 98 | Asia-Pacific
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