A former senior member of the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo cult has been sentenced to death for his part in a 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo underground and 10 other crimes.
Tomomasa Nakagawa, 41, was accused of helping to make the sarin gas, which killed 12 people and left thousands ill, and participating in other crimes led by the cult between 1989 and 1995.
His sentencing came a day before the start of a defence plea for the cult’s former leader, Shoko Asahara, who also faces the death penalty.
Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, has been on trial for seven and a half years. A ruling is expected on 27 February.
Defence lawyers for Nakagawa had argued he had no criminal intent.
But he had already pleaded guilty to the murder, in 1989, of a lawyer who was handling complaints against the cult.
Nakagawa was also accused of taking part in a 1994 gassing in the central Japanese city of Matsumoto and of several attempted murders using cyanide fumes, VX gas, sarin and a letter bomb, Japan’s Kyodo news agency said.
He became the 10th member of Aum to face the death penalty. None has so far been executed – the other nine members have filed appeals.
Japan’s justice minister warned earlier this year that the cult still posed a public threat.
A report compiled by the Justice Ministry’s Public Security Investigation Agency said that Aum had about 650 live-in followers and some 1,000 outside believers, as of the end of December 2002.
Aum went bankrupt in 1996, after the arrest of its top leaders. It has since changed its name to Aleph and claims to have renounced violence under its new leader, Fumihiro Joyu.
But the Justice Ministry says that under Mr Joyu’s leadership, the group continues to worship Asahara’s “dangerous” teachings.
The group maintains 28 offices and 120 apartments in 17 prefectures throughout Japan and has 300 members in Russia, the 2002 report said.
The cult is said to use different names to offer yoga lessons and computer classes in order to finance its activities and recruit new members.