TOKYO, Feb. 27, Kyodo – Shoko Asahara, the founder of the AUM Shinrikyo cult, was sentenced to death Friday at the Tokyo District Court, which found him guilty on all 13 charges against him, including the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.
Asahara, 48, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was indicted of murder and attempted murder in the 13 criminal cases that resulted in the death of 27 people.
Presiding Judge Shoji Ogawa said, ”We cannot help saying that the motivation and purpose of the crimes are too shameless and ridiculous. They were heinous and grievous offenses that we had never experienced.”
”The victims who lost their lives were not to blame. The heartaches of the bereaved families are deep and profound,” he said.
The defense lawyers for Asahara immediately appealed the ruling to the Tokyo High Court.
Asahara was the last of 189 people indicted in AUM-related crimes to be sentenced, and became the 12th to get the death penalty.
The 13 charges filed against the AUM guru include the murder of lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, who had been helping people with complaints against the cult, and was murdered together with his wife, then 29, and their 1-year-old son on Nov. 4, 1989.
Asahara was also found guilty or ordering the sarin gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in 1994 that killed seven people. The court said he ordered that attack in an attempt to murder a judge hearing an AUM-related case and with the intention of also murdering residents of the city.
In the Tokyo subway attack on March 20, 1995, 12 people were killed and more than 5,500 injured.
The defense team had laid the blame on Asahara’s followers in their closing arguments on Oct. 30 and 31, claiming they acted without his instructions.
Asahara stood in front of the witness stand in the court without moving when the death sentence was delivered.
Reflecting deep public interest in the case, 4,658 people lined up for the 38 seats open to the public in the Tokyo courtroom.
The prosecutors and Asahara’s 12 state-appointed defense lawyers clashed throughout the trial, which lasted seven years and 10 months because of the complexity of the case and the huge amount of testimony.
The focus of the trial in all 13 cases was whether Asahara ordered his followers to commit the crimes.
On April 24, 2003, the prosecutors demanded the death penalty for Asahara, calling his actions the most heinous in Japanese criminal history and labeling him the mastermind behind all the crimes attributed to AUM.
In particular, the prosecutors described the 1995 gassing as an indiscriminate mass killing he ordered in an attempt to obstruct impending police investigation.
For most of the trial, which began April 24, 1996, Asahara remained silent.
Judge Ogawa criticized the silence, saying the defendant ”is trying to escape from reality, and we could not hear any apology to the victims and the bereaved families.”
During the first hearing, he did not enter a plea. But a year later, he pleaded not guilty to all charges except one of attempted murder in a case involving a VX nerve gas attack.
The arguments in the trial, which the prosecutors sought to expedite by dropping four of 17 cases in October 2000, were finally wrapped up last October after 256 hearings.
Following Asahara’s arrest in May 1995, AUM tried to shed its crime-tainted image, and renamed itself Aleph in January 2000. The cult is under surveillance by the Justice Ministry’s Public Security Intelligence Agency.