The Tokyo High Court on Friday sentenced to death Yoshihiro Inoue, a former senior member of the AUM Shinrikyo cult who was charged in 10 criminal cases, including the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, overturning a life sentence handed down by a lower court.
Prosecutors had demanded death sentences for 10 AUM members, including Inoue, 34, but he was the only defendant to receive a life sentence.
The Tokyo District Court ruled in June 2000 that he had been involved only in logistical support as well as liaison and coordination, leading prosecutors to appeal to the high court.
But Presiding Judge Toshio Yamada at the high court said Inoue ”worked as a comprehensive coordinator in the attack on the subway system, and his responsibility is equivalent to those who actually dispersed sarin gas.”
It is the first time a high court has overturned a life sentence handed down by a lower court to impose the death sentence.
The defense lawyers for Inoue appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.
The judge said the high court established Inoue’s complicity in the subway gassing based on discussions among senior AUM members, including Inoue, that took place in a limousine, and that Inoue himself had proposed dispersing the sarin on the subway.
The court dismissed the prosecutors’ argument that Inoue had been designated by AUM Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara as a supervisor at the crime scene, instead determining that Inoue had taken a much more involved role as coordinator — far more serious than the role of ”logistical support as well as liaison and coordination” as determined by the lower court.
In addition to the sarin gas attack, Inoue was found guilty of abducting and murdering Kiyoshi Kariya, 68, a brother of a former AUM follower, in February 1995.
The court rejected a defense plea that Inoue had been under ”mind control” in following Asahara’s orders and therefore was not fully responsible for his actions.
The judge brushed off the plea, saying ”Even if the defendant was under the influence of mind control, (the argument) merits little consideration.”
Even after taking into consideration that the defendant expressed regret for his deeds and that the possibility he would commit a similar crime in the future is very low, the judge said, ”The court has no choice but to impose capital punishment.”
During the trial, Inoue apologized to the families of people killed in AUM-related incidents.
He also kept criticizing Asahara, telling him, ”You bear responsibility to tell the truth,” and called on AUM followers who had fled from the authorities to give themselves up.
Taro Takimoto, 47, lawyer and a member of a group of lawyers for AUM victims, criticized the ruling, indicating that the court was too simple in determining the sentence.
”The ruling said the court has given the death penalty in consideration of the seriousness of the subway sarin attack. But if the death penalty was given merely because the impact of the incidents was so big and the defendant played a considerable role, I think they should let a computer determine the sentencing.”
Takimoto also said Inoue should be kept alive to shed light on what really happened in the cult and the reasons behind the deadly attacks.
Shizue Takahashi, whose husband was killed in the sarin attack said, ”I think the ruling was appropriate. The defendant had apologized before the lower court ruling, but I doubt how serious he was.”
Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was sentenced to death in February at the Tokyo District Court for his involvement in 13 criminal cases.
After joining the cult in 1986 at the age of 16, Inoue assumed the post of ”intelligence minister.”
AUM renamed itself Aleph in January 2000.