Tokyo, Oct. 26 Kyodo – The Supreme Court rejected an appeal Friday by a former senior AUM Shinrikyo cult member sentenced to death for his involvement in two separate murder cases and in building a plant to mass-produce nerve gas, a move that finalizes his penalty.
The ruling, which upheld the September 2003 decision by the Tokyo High Court, on Satoru Hashimoto, 40, marks the first time a death sentence has been finalized for someone involved in carrying out the 1994 sarin gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture.
In handing down the ruling, Presiding Justice Osamu Tsuno said, “It is clear that he had disregard for human life and was motivated (to commit such crimes) in order to defend his group.”
Defence lawyers have argued against the death sentence, saying Hashimoto’s mind was under the control of AUM founder Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, and that Hashimoto had no intention to commit the crimes.
The lawyers also said Hashimoto was unaware of the toxicity of the sarin gas.
But Tsuno, of the Supreme Court’s second petty bench, deemed it appropriate for Hashimoto to receive the death penalty, taking into account Hashimoto’s attack on anti-AUM lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family and his key role in the Matsumoto sarin gas attack, including driving the vehicle from which sarin was sprayed.
The Tokyo District Court in July 2000 passed the death sentence on Hashimoto over the killing of Sakamoto, 33, his wife Satoko, 29, and their 1-year-old son Tatsuhiko in November 1989, and the 1994 sarin nerve gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, that left seven people dead and many others injured.
The court also found him guilty of building a sarin gas plant in Kamikuishiki, Yamanashi Prefecture, in 1994.
Hashimoto is the fourth person to receive a death sentence in connection with a series of crimes committed by AUM Shinrikyo. The three others are Asahara, 52, and two former senior members, Kazuaki Okazaki, 47, for the Sakamoto family’s murder, and Masato Yokoyama, 44, for the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attack.
The crimes involving the group include the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attack that left 12 people dead and thousands injured.
It renamed itself Aleph in 2001.