TOKYO, Aug. 18–(Kyodo)– The Tokyo High Court will rule Friday on a former senior member of the AUM Shinrikyo cult, Masami Tsuchiya, who has been appealing a death sentence for his role in making sarin and other poisons used in crimes allegedly committed by the cult, including the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin attack.
In January 2004, the Tokyo District Court found Tsuchiya, 41, guilty on six out of seven counts except a charge of hiding two wanted AUM members. He was accused of murder and other charges that led to the deaths of 20 people in total.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that without him, the AUM-related crimes in which chemical weapons were used could not have taken place,” the district court judge said. “He played a major role in a series of crimes.”
The judge sentenced Tsuchiya to death as demanded by prosecutors. He said Tsuchiya continued to submit himself to AUM founder Shoko Asahara while repeating unreasonable excuses and failing to offer sincere apology to the victims.
Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was sentenced to death by the Tokyo District Court on Feb. 27, 2004 for his role in 13 criminal cases, including the 1995 Tokyo subway attacks.
In June, his defense counsel filed a special appeal at the Supreme Court seeking to overturn the Tokyo High Court’s rejection of his appeal against the death sentence.
The district court concluded that Tsuchiya had developed all chemical weapons used in the crimes he was charged with under the instruction of Asahara.
The high court opened the trial last November but Tsuchiya did not show up, saying he had no obligation to appear in court. He also refused to see court-appointed defense lawyers.
In contrast to the first trial, which took more than 100 hearings in a period of about eight years, the high court sessions ended in May after just four hearings.
In a bid to avoid the death sentence, the defense team had claimed Tsuchiya did not intend to kill anyone as he was not informed of specific plans about attacking the subway. It also claimed that AUM unilaterally took advantage of his scientific knowledge.
Tsuchiya was in a doctorate program in chemistry at Tsukuba University when he became a live-in follower of the cult.
AUM renamed itself Aleph in January 2000.