TOKYO, March 15–(Kyodo)– The Tokyo High Court on Wednesday upheld the death sentence given to Tomomitsu Niimi, a former senior member of the cult formerly known as AUM Shinrikyo, by a lower court for a series of crimes including the deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995.
Niimi, 42, was the only follower of AUM founder Shoko Asahara to have been charged in all seven murder cases in which the cult was involved.
Presiding Judge Kunio Harada said in handing down the ruling, “The crimes were vicious ones and matched by few others in criminal history. Defendant Niimi, as one of the oldest and highest-ranking AUM Shinrikyo members, bore very significant responsibility for each crime.”
Niimi was found guilty of conspiring with Asahara and other AUM members to release the toxic gas on five subway trains in Tokyo on March 20, 1995, in an attack that left 12 people dead and more than 5,000 injured.
Niimi was also involved in spraying sarin on June 27, 1994 in a residential area in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, which killed seven people and seriously injured four, as well as the Nov. 4, 1989 murder of the whole family of anti-AUM lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto in Yokohama, the court said.
In a bid to avoid the death penalty, Niimi’s defense lawyers told earlier hearings the defendant was the most loyal apprentice to Asahara and had no option but to follow the guru’s instructions.
As prosecutors demanded, the Tokyo District Court sentenced Niimi to death in June 2002, a ruling which he appealed.
The district court also gave Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, the death penalty in February 2004 for his involvement in 13 cases.
The cult has renamed itself Aleph.