Friday, August 4

Manga could mean difference between life and death for notorious curry poisoner

One of Japan's most heinous crimes is making headlines again, years later, as doubt is cast on the woman convicted of committing it, according to Shukan Asahi (8/4).

Eight years ago, insurance saleswoman Masumi Hayashi shocked Japan when she poured arsenic into a large pot of curry being served to those attending a neighborhood festival in Wakayama.

Of those who ate the deadly dish, eight died and another 63 fell violently ill, earning Hayashi a trip to Death Row, where she fights an appeal with the Supreme Court to overturn her conviction as she awaits her turn for the gallows.

But "Go Kinjo Zankoku Jikenbo (Cruel Neighborhood Crime Files)," a manga that went on sale earlier this year, has given the convicted murderess unexpected hope of cheating the hangman.

Its account of the killings is told from the eyes of a woman who was a schoolgirl at the time of the incident. The schoolgirl says she saw Hayashi pour a cup of poison into the curry. But, at a memorial for victims held last year, the now-grown woman admits that she made up her statement, deciding to speak out to gain attention.

Being a manga, people would normally treat its claims with a grain of salt. But Hayashi's death sentence -- handed down by the Wakayama District Court and upheld by the Osaka High Court -- came after crucial testimony was given by, you guessed it, a schoolgirl who claimed to have seen Hayashi acting suspiciously around the curry that turned out to be poisoned.

"The manga also has really detailed pictures of people from the area who were never shown on TV," a resident of the Wakayama neighborhood where the killings occurred tells Shukan Asahi. "And there was plenty of new information (in the manga) that hasn't been reported before."

These doubts have raised thoughts about something most would regard as unthinkable.

"If what's being said in the manga is true," one resident says, "then Masumi might be innocent."

Takeshobo, publishers of "Cruel Neighborhood Crime Files," vehemently reject any suggestions that the manga may influence Hayashi's case.

"It's basically fiction," a Takeshobo spokesman tells Shukan Asahi. "There are all sorts of explanations about what really happened back then and the author has done nothing more than pick up on one of them."

But Hayashi's lawyers are frantically trying to save their client and look like they're clutching at any straw that comes their way.

"We're looking closely at (the manga)," one of the lawyers tells Shukan Asahi. "It may help with our appeal against the sentence." (By Ryann Connell)

August 1, 2006


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