The Tokyo High Court upheld Wednesday lower court rulings sentencing two former members of the AUM Shinrikyo cult to death and another to life in prison for their involvement in the deadly 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 12 people and injured thousands.
In July 2000, the Tokyo District Court handed down death sentences to Toru Toyoda, 36, and Kenichi Hirose, 40, after they were found guilty on charges including murder. Shigeo Sugimoto, 45, who served as a driver during the attack, was sentenced to life imprisonment.
In handing down Wednesday’s ruling, Presiding Judge Shogo Takahashi said that the defendants “cannot be exempt from harsh criticism even after carefully considering the circumstances favorable to the defendants, such as their show of deep remorse over their wrongdoing.”
“(Their) responsibility is grave and capital punishment is inevitable,” he said.
In a series of crimes involving the cult, which shocked Japanese society, a total of 13 people, including Toyoda, Hirose and AUM Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara, 49, have received death sentences and have filed appeals.
Of the 13, five have appealed to the Supreme Court over their high court rulings upholding the capital punishment. Another one, Yoshihiro Inoue, 34, is also appealing his death sentence at the high court, which overturned the life sentence handed down by the lower court.
During the trial at the high court, defense lawyers for Hirose and Toyoda called for a lighter punishment than death, saying the two had been under mind control by Asahara which therefore should put into question their criminal responsibility.
They also argued that a life term for Sugimoto was too heavy.
According to the district court, the three conspired with Asahara in the subway gassing, which was carried out by a five-member AUM squad including Toyoda and Hirose.
During the morning rush hour on March 20, 1995, Toyoda boarded a Hibiya Line train and Hirose a Marunouchi Line train, and they both released the liquid sarin, the ruling said. Sugimoto served as a driver for Yasuo Hayashi, 46, another member of the squad.
Hayashi is appealing his death sentence to the Supreme Court.
From the onset, the three had admitted to the charges and apologized to the victims and bereaved relatives. The district court in its ruling on July 17, 2000, meted out harsh punishment on the three.
Prosecutors had sought the death penalty for Toyoda and Hirose and a life sentence for Sugimoto.
The three defendants were also on trial in connection with various other charges including the killing of two AUM followers in 1994.
Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was sentenced to death Feb. 27 at the Tokyo District Court for his involvement in 13 criminal cases, including the 1995 sarin gassing.