Tokyo – The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected an appeal by a former senior member of the AUM Shinrikyo cult who was sentenced to death for murdering an anti-AUM lawyer, his wife and infant son and an AUM follower in 1989.
Kazuaki Okazaki, 44, is the first to receive the death penalty from the top court among 13 people sentenced to death by district or high courts in connection with a series of AUM-related crimes.
A major point of contention in the case was whether the fact that Okazaki turned himself in would mitigate his sentence. The Penal Code says a sentence may be commuted if a defendant turns himself in.
Okazaki was found guilty of murdering anti-AUM lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, 33, his wife Satoko, 29, and their 1-year-old son Tatsuhiko, in November 1989. He was also convicted of murdering former AUM member Shuji Taguchi, 21, in February 1989 when Taguchi attempted to leave the cult.
His trial was the shortest among the 13 because he admitted to the charges from the start. The Tokyo District Court sentenced him to death in October 1998.
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Okazaki had asked for leniency, saying he surrendered himself and was the first among the perpetrators of the Sakamoto family murder to confess to the crime.
The court acknowledged that Okazaki surrendered to police and that that contributed a great deal to solving criminal cases involving the cult. But it decided Okazaki’s crimes still merit hanging due to the gravity of the case and that Okazaki surrendered for “self-protection.”
The Tokyo High Court upheld the ruling in December 2001.
Okazaki was one of the senior members of the cult founded by Shoko Asahara, 50, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto.
Asahara was sentenced to death in February last year over 13 cases, including the fatal 1995 sarin gas attacks in the Tokyo subway system and the murder of the Sakamoto family.
Among the 13 death row inmates, eight have appealed to the top court, while the remaining five are still making their appeals at high courts.
AUM Shinrikyo renamed itself Aleph in January 2000.