'Black Widow' sentenced to death in Japan

Chisako Kakehi

A one-time millionairess dubbed the "Black Widow" over the untimely deaths of lovers and a husband was sentenced to death Tuesday, in a high-profile murder case that has gripped Japan.

Kyoto District Court convicted Chisako Kakehi of the deaths, which occurred between 2007 and 2013.

While sentencing the old woman, presiding judge Akiko Nakagawa said: "It was an extremely malicious and sneaky crime borne out of greed for money".

"Even if I were executed tomorrow, I would die smiling", Kakehi previously told the judges. She would then trick them into making her the beneficiary of their insurance payouts and later kill them using cyanide which she had kept hidden in a plant pot at her home.

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. Even though she has been diagnosed with dementia, the court ruled that she should be held responsible for the crimes.

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.

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But the defence argued that much of the case rested on circumstantial evidence, and there was no evidence directly pinning Kakehi to the deaths - including how she had obtained and stored the cyanide.

But later that week, Kakehi recanted her confession, saying that she did not remember the admission.

Although she was aware of the toxicity of the cyanide compounds, she gave them to the four men by putting the substances in capsule form so that they looked like supplements, the judge said.

She married first at the age of 24 and launched 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.

Kakehi used to befriend wealthy and mostly elderly and sick men who did not have any children. She earned an inheritance of approximately 1bn yen (£6.88m, $8.84m) but now it has been said that she lost much of her wealth through financial trading.

The trial was held under Japan's lay judge system, which involves citizen judges.

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