The Wakayama Curry Case

Hayashi Masumi

JDPIC NOTE: The Wakayama Curry Case is one of the most dreadful travesties of justice in Japan's history. Masumi Hayashi, the mother of four children, has been sentenced to death based on circumstantial evidence. The trial occurred in the media, and Hayashi was found guilty.

Below is reportage on the Supreme Courts finalization of her sentence.

(JDPIC director Michael Fox has visited Hayashi at the Osaka detention center and corresponded through the mails.
Read her translated letter.)

Hayashi's death penalty finalized
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Verdict in curry poisonings stands despite no direct evidence, motive
Kyodo News

The Supreme Court on Tuesday finalized Masumi Hayashi's death sentence for killing four people with arsenic-laced curry at a 1998 summer festival in the city of Wakayama, rejecting her not-guilty plea and ending an almost decade-long trial.

It's just water: Masumi Hayashi aims water toward a media crew in the garden of her Wakayama home in August 1998 before her arrest over the fatal curry poisonings in her neighborhood the previous month. KYODO PHOTO

Hayashi, 47, a former insurance saleswoman, was convicted at the district court level of killing the four and sickening 63 others who ate the poisoned curry, although there was no direct evidence to prove her involvement and no clear motive. Her sentence was upheld in a high court appeal. She was also convicted of trying to kill an acquaintance for insurance, as well as her husband, Kenji, 63, a pest exterminator, to collect on policies she had taken out on them.

In a statement released through her lawyers after the decision, Hayashi said: "There is a true culprit somewhere. I'm determined to clear myself of this false conviction."

The top court's Third Petty Bench said circumstantial evidence proves to "a degree that leaves no room for rational doubt" that Hayashi poisoned the curry and said the failure by the lower courts to clarify her motive "does not affect the judgment" that she did it.

Referring to the large impact the poisonings had on society, as well as Hayashi's unrepentant attitude, the court added: "The defendant's criminal responsibility is extremely serious . . . the (top) court has no choice but to approve the death sentence by the district court."

Hayashi's lawyers plan to petition for a retrial.

The district and high courts were unable to clarify Hayashi's motive, but prosecutors insisted she was "infuriated by feeling alienated from housewives in the neighborhood" when she went to where the curry was being prepared on the day of the festival.

Hayashi's counsel challenged in the top court the credibility of expert scientific analysis that showed the arsenic in the stew was identical to samples found in the defendant's home and other locations linked to her, and of a neighbor's testimony that she was left alone near the curry for a certain period.

After pleading not guilty when her Wakayama District Court trial opened in May 1999, Hayashi exercised her right to remain silent. In 2002, she was sentenced to hang.

She broke her silence during her Osaka High Court appeal, again declaring herself innocent. The high court in 2005 nonetheless upheld the sentence, prompting Hayashi's Supreme Court appeal.

The high court also upheld her conviction for trying to murder her husband and a male acquaintance by using arsenic with the aim of obtaining insurance money.

Devoted husband: Kenji Hayashi, husband of convicted murderer Masumi Hayashi, speaks to the media at his Wakayama apartment Tuesday after the Supreme Court finalized his wife's death sentence over the July 1998 fatal curry poisonings. KYODO PHOTO

Hayashi's counsel was joined by Yoshihiro Yasuda, a well-known criminal lawyer and campaigner against the death penalty, at the top court stage.

The defense argued the investigators dealt with the arsenic samples in a lax manner.

The counsel also said it was possible the witness account of Hayashi minding the curry pots alone could have been mistaken and that in fact it was her daughter.

The counsel also noted Hayashi had no motive to commit a random killing.

Victims of the poisonings are still suffering from aftereffects of arsenic, with one woman saying, "I feel pain because of my deformed fingernails and toenails."

The incident took place on July 25, 1998. A 10-year-old child and a 16-year-old high school girl were among those who died after eating the poisoned curry.

Hayashi's husband was also convicted of insurance fraud and received a short prison term in the late 1990s.

In comments to the media after the final decision, Kenji Hayashi, now living by himself in a Wakayama apartment, said he is confident his wife is innocent.

"(The Supreme Court ruling) is regrettable because I've been trying to prove her innocence up till today," he said before dressing down the entire criminal justice system. His claims covered the gamut from the "flawed police investigation" to the "bogus crime scenario cooked up by prosecutors" and the "false conviction" of his wife by all three courts.

"The Supreme Court only rubber-stamped the rulings of the lower courts and therefore is outrageous," He said. "I will continue to do my utmost to support her and never give in."

(IHT/Asahi: April 22,2009)
Convicted murderer Masumi Hayashi lost her appeal against the death sentence after the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that despite purely circumstantial evidence she must have committed the crime that left four people dead and 63 poisoned.

In a case that gripped the nation, Hayashi, a 47-year-old mother of four children, was accused of lacing arsenic in curry prepared for a summer festival in the city of Wakayama in July 1998.

In a statement after the Supreme Court decision, Hayashi said: "I am in no way connected with the curry poisoning incident. The true culprit is someone else. I cannot understand why I have been handed the death sentence when the evidence (against me) is so weak and there is no proof of how the crime was committed."

With the top court's ruling, Hayashi's death sentence was effectively finalized.

In addition to the curry poisoning case, Hayashi was indicted in separate cases of attempted murder and insurance fraud stemming from incidents revolving around her husband, Kenji, and a male acquaintance.

Throughout the investigation, Masumi Hayashi remained silent and during the lower court trials she maintained her innocence on all the charges except for those dealing with insurance fraud.

In the curry poisoning case, not only was there no evidence directly linking Hayashi to the crime, but prosecutors also failed to clearly state a motive for the slayings.

Prosecutors were only able to present circumstantial evidence against the former insurance saleswoman.

They argued that Hayashi had tried earlier to kill her husband and the male acquaintance by poisoning them with arsenic. They also said the arsenic detected in the curry matched samples found in her home. Hayashi's husband had worked as an exterminator.

Prosecutors contended that Hayashi was the only individual who had the opportunity to tamper with pots of curry to be served at the festival.

Defense lawyers questioned the analytical work done in matching the arsenic in the curry with samples found in Hayashi's home and also challenged the other arguments presented by prosecutors.

However, the Wakayama District Court in December 2002 found Hayashi guilty of murder in the curry poisoning case and handed down the death sentence.

In June 2005, the Osaka High Court upheld the lower court ruling, leading defense lawyers to appeal to the Supreme Court.

In arguments on Feb. 24, defense lawyers said the curry poisoning case was different from the instances of insurance fraud. They said Hayashi had no motive for adding arsenic to the curry.

Defense lawyers also noted that eyewitnesses who said they saw Hayashi near the curry pot may have mistaken her for her daughter. They also said other individuals had an opportunity to lace the curry with arsenic.

Writer Kaoru Takamura pointed to the difficulties of handing down a death sentence in the absence of cast-iron evidence.

"Looking at the facts of the crime, this is a case that calls for the death sentence, but it is difficult to evaluate the finalizing of a death sentence based only on circumstantial evidence," Takamura said.

"In cases when there is no confession or decisive evidence and the motive is unclear, the conclusion can only be either the death sentence or a not guilty verdict. I feel that under the lay judge system (beginning May 21) it will be impossible for civilians to make a decision in a short period of time in cases such as this."

Death sentence upheld for Wakayama curry killer
(Mainichi Japan) April 21, 2009

The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the death sentence on a woman convicted of lacing curry with arsenic at a summer festival in Wakayama, killing four local residents.

The top court's Third Petty Bench dismissed an appeal filed by the defendant, Masumi Hayashi, 47, against lower court rulings.

"Her criminal responsibility is extremely grave, and the Supreme Court has no choice but to uphold the death sentence by the district and high court," Presiding Justice Kohei Nasu said as he handed down the ruling.

"The incident had a huge impact on the regional community and the general public. She also committed attempted murder and other crimes in connection with insurance fraud, and has a strong tendency to commit crimes," Nasu said.

"The four victims were suddenly deprived of their lives during a summer festival they should have enjoyed, even though they were not at fault. It is only natural that their bereaved families are urging that the defendant be punished severely," the presiding judge said.

Nasu also noted that Hayashi has neither regretted her crime nor compensated her victims.

Hayashi has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The incident occurred during a summer festival organized by a neighborhood association in the Sonobe district of Wakayama on July 25, 1998. Sixty-seven local residents suffered from arsenic poisoning after eating curry cooked by some residents. Four of them died.

There is no concrete evidence that Hayashi laced the curry with arsenic. However, prosecutors claimed that Hayashi committed the crime by presenting various pieces of circumstantial evidence.

The top court upheld prosecutors' claims.

The court pointed out that arsenic identical in components to that laced into the curry was found in the defendant's home, and that high levels of arsenic were detected in her hair, leading the court to believe that she possessed such chemicals.

It also noted that Hayashi was the only person who had a chance to lace the curry with arsenic and that she was spotted acting suspiciously at the scene, such as opening the cover of the pot containing the curry.

"Her involvement in the crime has been proven to the extent that there is no room for raising rational doubts about it," the presiding justice said.

It is extremely rare for the Supreme Court to explain the reasons for finding a defendant guilty when it upholds lower court death sentences.

Hayashi kept silent during the trial at the district court, but pleaded not guilty to the charges during the high court trial.

Click here for the original Japanese story

(Mainichi Japan) April 21, 2009


Wakayama curry murders recalled 10 years on

Sunday 27th July, 2008


This weekend marked the 10th anniversary of the high-profile Wakayama festival curry poisonings that killed four people and sickened 63 others. Although Masumi Hayashi, 47, was sentenced to death for the murders and attempted murders by the Wakayama District Court in 2002 and the Osaka High Court upheld her sentence in 2005, much of the story remains unresolved.

Hayashi, who proclaimed her innocence throughout the trials, has appealed her case to the Supreme Court.

The district and high courts said the life-insurance saleswoman added arsenic to a vat of curry served up during Wakayama’s Sonobe district festival on July 25, 1998, while neighbor women she was unfriendly with were not around.

Police had charged Hayashi based on circumstantial evidence. She remained silent all through her first trial.

Hayashi was also charged with conspiring with her husband, Kenji, a termite exterminator who handled arsenic, in a failed attempt to murder an acquaintance with arsenic-laced food for insurance money. Kenji Hayashi was sentenced to six years in prison in 2000.

Although Masumi owned up to the murder-for-insurance attempt in court, she claimed innocence for the curry murders. She was also convicted of trying to poison her husband for insurance. Prosecutors obtained a wealth of circumstantial evidence, but no confession.

Given the situation, Sonobe residents and kin of the victims say their sorrow and sadness persist 10 years later.

A 75-year-old Sonobe woman who helped cook the curry with other housewives, said: “I still regret that we left (Hayashi) alone near the curry vat.”

A victims’ group is urging Hayashi to come clean, but to no avail.

“The situation has come to a point where we can no longer expect her to tell the truth. After all, lost lives can’t be brought back and our sorrow can’t be healed, even if she speaks up,” group leader Mitsuo Hamai, 58, said.