Top court lets death sentence stand for former AUM Shinrikyo member

The Supreme Court upheld Friday the death sentence for a former senior AUM Shinrikyo member who, in conspiracy with other cult members, staged the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attack that killed 12 people and injured more than 5,000.

Justice Ryoji Nakagawa, presiding judge of the case at the top court’s second petty bench, turned down an appeal filed by Masato Yokoyama, 43, against a 2003 high court decision that upheld the death penalty given in September 2000.

Under Japan’s Code of Criminal Procedure, Yokoyama can still file an objection with the Supreme Court against Friday’s decision. But such an objection would be limited to technical matters such as a wording mistake, if any, in the decision. Judicial experts say the top court has rarely accepted such an objection.

A total of 189 people were indicted for involvement in a series of crimes committed by AUM Shinrikyo members. Of them, 13 had been sentenced to death at the Tokyo District Court.

Of the 13, Yokoyama is the third AUM member for whom the death sentence has been confirmed. The death sentences on the two others — AUM founder Shoko Asahara and former senior member Kazuaki Okazaki — have already been finalized.

Justice Nakagawa, in turning down Yokoyama’s appeal, said, “The subway sarin attack was literally an indiscriminate act of mass murder and extremely heinous,” adding it is unavoidable to impose the death penalty on the defendant.

According to lower court rulings, Yokoyama conspired with Asahara and other AUM members and released sarin gas in Tokyo subway trains on March 20, 1995. As leader of AUM’s arms-producing team, Yokoyama played a key role in illicitly producing an automatic gun.

Yokoyama is one of the five AUM members who actually released sarin gas on five Tokyo subway trains in the attack during the morning rush hours by puncturing plastic bags loaded with the liquefied deadly gas. Three of the four others have appealed their death sentences to the highest court.

The fifth perpetrator, 60-year-old Ikuo Hayashi, who was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Tokyo District Court in 1998, is currently serving time in prison without appealing. Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty for Hayashi as he turned himself in to police investigators.

Yokoyama had been charged with a number of criminal counts, including murder, attempted murder and production of arms.

The defense had argued that the death penalty on Yokoyama was too heavy, noting that there were no deaths in a train on the Marunouchi subway line where he released the sarin nerve gas.

AUM founder Asahara, 52, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was sentenced to death at the Tokyo District Court in February 2004 after being found to have masterminded the AUM-related crimes, including the two waves of sarin gas attacks against the Tokyo subway system and residential quarters in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in central Japan.

In March 2006, the Tokyo High Court turned down an appeal from his defense lawyers who failed to submit by the court-set Aug. 31, 2005, deadline a written document giving the reason for the appeal.

His defense lawyers had asked the high court to suspend the trial and extend the deadline, saying they could not establish meaningful communication with the defendant, who they claimed was not competent to stand trial.

In September that year, the Supreme Court turned down an appeal filed by the defense, finalizing the death sentence against Asahara.

Okazaki was convicted of killing, in conspiracy with other AUM members, Yokohama-based lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife and their son in November 1989.

AUM renamed itself Aleph in 2000. In May this year, followers of former AUM Shinrikyo spokesman Fumihiro Joyu organized a splinter group, called “Hikari no Wa” (circle of light).

The Justice Ministry’s Public Security Intelligence Agency, which watches suspected subversive groups, has kept tabs on both Aleph and Joyu’s group.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday July 20, 2007.
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