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Court confirms death sentence

JAPAN'S highest court upheld the death sentence yesterday of a woman convicted of murdering four neighbors and sickening dozens more with arsenic-laced curry more than a decade ago.

The Supreme Court rejected Masumi Hayashi's appeal and backed an earlier criminal court's decision to administer the death penalty, court spokeswoman Hiromi Takano said.

Hayashi's lawyers have said they plan to file a petition for a retrial, the Kyodo news agency reported.

A district court convicted Hayashi, 47, in 2002 of deliberately lacing a pot of curry with arsenic and serving it to neighbors at a festival in July 1998 in Wakayama city, about 450 kilometers southwest of Tokyo. Four people, including two children, died, and 63 others fell ill.

The incident unnerved the nation at the time and led to dozens of copycat crimes across Japan for several months. In one case, a man died after drinking canned tea laced with cyanide.

Hayashi was arrested in October 1998 and has maintained her innocence ever since.

The courts never clarified a possible motive, although prosecutors have said she was angry with housewives in the neighborhood. She was also convicted without direct evidence linking her to the poisonings.

But the top court said circumstantial evidence proved beyond doubt that Hayashi was guilty.

"The defendant's criminal responsibility is extremely serious. The court has no choice but to approve the death sentence by the district court," the ruling said.

Hayashi's chances of securing a retrial are low, said Makoto Teranaka, secretary-general of Amnesty International Japan. If the petition fails, Hayashi could appeal for clemency as a last-ditch effort.

Teranaka said his group, which opposes the death penalty, is troubled by the sentence because of the lack of a confession or direct evidence.

Japan reinstated capital punishment in 1993 after a four-year moratorium.


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