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Japan’s ‘black widow’ sentenced to hang for killing husbands, lovers with cyanide

Chisako Kakehi arrives at court in Kyoto in March 2014. (Jiji Press/AFP/Getty Images)

When Japan’s notorious “black widow” serial killer admitted to murdering her husband for his money, she told a court she would laugh in the face of a death sentence.

“Even if I were executed tomorrow, I would die smiling,” Chisako Kakehi said to the judges in her trial testimony in July, according to Agence France-Presse.

Her words may be put to the test.

On Tuesday, Kyoto District Court sentenced the 70-year-old woman to death by hanging for the murders of her husband and two other romantic partners, as well as the attempted murder of another man, potentially drawing a curtain on a high-profile case that drew interest from across Japan and captured international headlines. Her name and face have become synonymous with the venomous “black widow” spider that kills its mates.

In all four murders, prosecutors said Kakehi tricked her lovers into drinking cyanide, convincing them it was a health cocktail, to inherit their wealth and insurance payouts, the Japan Times reported. Kakehi meticulously planned the killings, preparing the necessary documents to ensure the men designated her a beneficiary, prosecutors said, calling it a “heinous crime driven by greed for money.”

All of the men were older than 70, and all of them wealthy — she even met some of them through dating sites specifically targeting affluent men, according to testimony. Over the course of 10 years, Kakehi inherited $8.8 million in insurance payouts, AFP reported, but she lost most of it through trading in the stock market.

She was arrested in 2014, after her fourth husband, Isao Kakehi, 75, was found dead in his home near Kyoto in December 2013, about a month after they had married. Kakehi’s three previous husbands also all died, but she has not faced charges in connection to their deaths, the BBC reported.

In the trial’s initial stages in June, Kakehi stayed quiet. Her lawyers denied all of the charges against her, and maintained her innocence.

But then, in a testimony in July, she shocked a courtroom by admitting to killing her fourth husband, according to Mainichi daily newspaper. When prosecutors asked her whether she killed her husband by poisoning him, she replied that there was “no mistake.”

Asked whether she was fully aware of the potential repercussions to the admission, Kakehi said “yes.” She said her husband treated her unfairly when it came to finances, giving more money to a woman he previously dated than to her. “I got angry,” she said, Mainichi reported.

But later that week, she backtracked, saying she did not remember admitting to the killing, Mainichi reported.

Lawyers for Kakehi pleaded not guilty, citing a lack of physical evidence and arguing that she could not be prosecuted because she had begun showing symptoms of dementia at the time of the killings, the Japan Times reported.

But presiding judge Ayako Nakagawa ruled the death sentence was justified, saying Kakehi “made light of human lives” and gave “almost no words of apology.”  Kakehi’s lawyers filed an appeal. Her execution could be a long time coming, if indeed the sentence is upheld. Prosecutors called her actions “shrewd and despicable.”

Yet after receiving the death sentence, Kakehi simply blinked, showing no expression on her face, Mainichi reported.

“Should I say something?” she said.

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