Life sentence for AUM cultist over sarin upheld

The Tokyo High Court on Thursday upheld a lower court ruling that sentenced a senior AUM Shinrikyo cultist to life in prison for his involvement in the 1994 sarin gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, that killed seven people and injured many others.

Prosecutors had demanded the death penalty for Noboru Nakamura, 36, and appealed the life sentence issued by the Tokyo District Court in May 2001, along with Nakamura.

”His guilt for following the cult founder’s wishes and readily committing the heinous crime is significant, but we hesitate to give the death sentence because he played a subordinate role,” Presiding Judge Atsushi Semba said.

”Life imprisonment, which is close to a life sentence (without parole), is appropriate.”

Under Japanese law, the sentence of life in prison without parole does not exist.

A convict sentenced to life imprisonment can usually be released on parole after nearly 20 years.

During the appeals trial, the prosecutors argued that Nakamura should be executed because he committed the crimes with a firm intent to kill.

But Nakamura’s lawyers, who claimed he had not intended to kill anyone and is now remorseful, called for a sentence with a fixed term.

Semba upheld the district court’s sentence, saying, ”The defendant knew before the crime that the sarin will be released, but it cannot be said that he foresaw that many will be killed and injured due to numerous failures in cultivating botulinum. It is doubtful that he had a firm intention to kill.”

According to the high court ruling, Nakamura conspired with AUM founder Shoko Asahara to release sarin gas in Matsumoto in June 1994.

Nakamura was also found guilty of killing a 27-year-old AUM follower in Yamanashi Prefecture in July 1994 and was involved in the confinement resulting in death of a man in 1995 and the construction of a sarin plant in the cult’s facilities between 1993 and 1994.

Prosecutors demanded the death penalty for Asahara in their closing arguments April 24. The cult founder, who had stood trial for nearly eight years, is expected to be sentenced in February.

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