Kanae Kijima, 37, the woman accused of murder following the suspicious deaths of three men in Saitama, Tokyo and Chiba in 2009, was sentenced to death by a panel of lay judges at the end of her trial at the Saitama District Court.
Kijima, who has been dubbed the "black widow" killer, is also suspected of killing as many as five other men she met via online marriage sites, by drugging them with sleeping pills and disguising their deaths as suicides or accidents.
Kijima, who has a past as a paid-for mistress, killed the three men by poisoning them with carbon monoxide from burning charcoal briquettes after giving them sleeping tablets.
The court heard how she had wanted to stop them from demanding back money she had taken from them over the course of brief relationships.
"Three times she carried out extremely serious and vicious crimes," presiding judge Kazuyuki Ohkuma said.
The thick-set Kijima, who according to media reports appeared in court wearing a short skirt, committed the crimes "in order to maintain her luxurious life full of vainglory without working," the judge said.
More than 1,300 people queued up for the 49 seats available to the public for the hearing.
She was convicted of killing Takao Terada, 53, and Kenzo Ando, 80, in Tokyo and nearby Chiba Prefecture in January and May of 2009, by leaving burning briquettes in their homes, a fairly common method of suicide in Japan.
Yoshiyuki Oide, 41, died in a rented car, also from the fumes from briquettes, in neighboring Saitama Prefecture in August 2009.
Kijima's plain appearance seemed to commentators at odds with her defense that two of her victims had killed themselves because they were distraught at the idea of her leaving them.
She was also convicted of seven other lesser crimes, including fraud and theft.
Because there was no evidence that directly linked Kijima to the murders, the prosecution focused on details such as the suicide paraphernalia Kijima purchased online and the money that her victims transferred into her bank accounts.
Kijima worked as a home helper for Ando and had visited his home the same day. She was captured by CCTV cameras withdrawing money using his cash card. Kijima testified that Ando asked her to withdraw the money for him.
In Oide's case, he was found dead in the back seat of his rented car in an apparent suicide. The car contained a charcoal burner. But there were no keys in the ignition.
Suspicions were further aroused when it emerged that less than 24 hours before his death, Oide had written about Kijima on his blog, writing, “At 41, I’m actually looking forward to getting married, and today I’ll meet my partner’s family.”
An autopsy showed that Oide had died from carbon monoxide poisoning, but that his blood also contained traces of sleeping pills. Just before his death, he had transferred 5 million yen to Kijima’s bank account.
The third victim, Terada, died of carbon monoxide poisoning in his home.
Prosecutors said that Kijima, a mother of five, would reportedly agree to marriage and then claim to be in desperate need of cash to complete her studies before she could go through with the marriage.
According to one weekly magazine, in an email to a 70-year-old lover, she claimed that her parents had been killed in a plane crash and that she needed money to complete her music studies in the U.S. The man was later found dead at his home.
Police say that Kijima, who claims to have worked as a nurse and a piano teacher, possessed multiple prescriptions for sleeping pills of the type found in her alleged victims. According to police, there is also evidence that she bought the items needed to cause carbon monoxide poisoning over the Internet.
Though she lived in an inexpensive rented apartment, Kijima was known to write about her extravagant lifestyle on her blog and was reportedly seen turning up to dates at luxury hotels in a red Mercedes.
Kijima's lawyer argued that the deaths of Kijima’s lovers could all have been accidents or suicides. The trial lasted 100 days and 63 witnesses were called.© Japan Today/ AFP