Key AUM cultist Tsuchiya gets death for subway gassing

Masami Tsuchiya, a former senior member of the AUM Shinrikyo cult, was sentenced to death Friday for playing a key role in the murder of 13 people in crimes committed by the sect including the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attack.

The Tokyo District Court, which has been hearing the case since November 1995, handed down the sentence as demanded by prosecutors.

”Capital punishment is the only option,” Presiding Judge Satoru Hattori said.

Tsuchiya, 39, is the 11th person to receive the death penalty in connection with crimes committed by AUM, founded by Shoko Asahara in the 1980s.

Of the 189 people indicted for AUM-related crimes, the trained chemist is the second-to-last defendant to receive a ruling at a district court. The last is AUM’s founder.

A ruling for Asahara, for whom prosecutors have also demanded capital punishment, is scheduled for Feb. 27.

Tsuchiya was found guilty on all counts, except a charge of hiding two wanted AUM members.

His defense team is expected to appeal.

The court concluded that Tsuchiya had developed all chemical weapons used in the crimes he was charged with under the instruction of Asahara.

”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 judge said. ”He played a major role in a series of crimes.”

Tsuchiya was accused of murder and attempted murder in the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway in March 1995 that killed 12 people and left thousands injured.

He was also charged in six other cases, including three incidents in which VX nerve gas was used to kill or harm people.

He pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The defense team has claimed Tsuchiya did not intend to kill anyone as he did not know the deadly weapons would be used.

Tsuchiya was in a doctorate program in chemistry at Tsukuba University when he became a live-in follower of the cult.

His trial lasted more than eight years as he dismissed his lawyers twice. He remained silent during the proceedings until December 2000.

Ten other AUM-related defendants have already been sentenced to death in their district court trials and appealed. Among them, four saw their death sentences upheld in high courts and have again appealed to the Supreme Court.

AUM renamed itself Aleph in January 2000. Asahara’s real name is Chizuo Matsumoto.

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