Aum Shinri-kyo and Related Controversies
No less than the death sentence -- with some saying death is not enough -- seems to be the general tone set by the media and public ahead of the long-awaited ruling on Feb. 27 on AUM Shinrikyo founder and leader Shoko Asahara.
But Yoshiyuki Kono, who was falsely branded as a suspect in the 1994 sarin gas attack by AUM in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, is not jumping on the bandwagon of vitriolic condemnation of the cult, its members and Asahara.
"I only want a fair and just ruling from the court and nothing more," said Kono, whose wife Sumiko is still in a coma as a result of the sarin gassing.
Immediately after the gassing incident on the night of June 27, 1994, which Kono was the first to report to the police, he was portrayed as a suspect by the police and harassed by the media.
The police alleged he caused the gassing that killed seven people in Matsumoto and injured more than 100 by trying to make herbicide by mixing chemical substances which led to the release of the toxic gas.
The attack was a prelude to the sarin gassing of Tokyo's subway system on March 20, 1995, which killed 12 people and injured thousands.
For someone who was subjected to a taxing ordeal -- intense grilling by the police, daily tirades of biased media reporting and harassment by the media and some members of the public -- the 54-year-old Kono is a picture of composure and quiet resolve.
"I have no hatred or anger against anyone...given my experience as both a victim and an alleged assailant, I do not want anyone to go through what I did," he said.
AUM followers -- Kono calls the group Aleph in line with its renaming of itself in 2000 -- should not be treated unreasonably, he believes.
"Say that capital punishment is imposed (on Mr. Asahara) -- will the people who died return, or will the injuries of the victims, like that of my wife, be healed?" he asks.
"People who want to exact retribution would probably feel the death penalty is fine, but as for me, I leave it up to the court." Kono speaks with a soft but controlled tone, carefully choosing his words.
Rather than harbor resentment over his and his family's experience, Kono feels a sense of gratitude that they were able to pull through the 10 years that have passed and overcome the trials in their lives, and that to this day, his wife, 55, is still alive.
Sumiko remains unconscious but is moved in and out of the hospital to sometimes stay at a nursing facility.
Kono stresses he does not consider a death sentence on the AUM leader would serve as a "closure" for him given his wife's condition.
He goes on to argue that death penalty system does not resolve anything, much less deter crimes. "People do not commit crimes thinking of the kind of punishment they will have to face. I believe that the life of everyone, including those who committed crimes, is precious."
The police exonerated Kono when AUM members later told investigators the group was responsible for the gas attack in the residential area in Matsumoto, in an apparent attempt to kill a judge who was handling a civil suit involving the religious group.
Since then, Kono has regularly appeared in speaking engagements on issues relating to media coverage, crime and human rights. Last year, he attended 95 such gatherings, with audiences ranging from as few as 35 to as many as 3,000.
He also engages in freelance writing, although he stresses that nursing his wife is his top priority.
Kono tells how he went to see the AUM founder during the third hearing of his trial, and of his surprise at the discrepancy between the media depiction of Asahara and the Asahara he saw. Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, faces charges including murder for ordering crimes committed by his followers in which more than 20 people died.
"The media depicted Mr. Asahara as this extremely disgusting figure. What I saw, though, was a very small, weak person," Kono said.
He stressed, however, that he has since come to terms with the media.
"The media initially hit on me, but they also ended up helping me avoid my impending arrest" by creating an atmosphere that did not lean one-sidedly to police investigations, he said.
Neither does he have any resentment against the police.
"I cannot generalize that everyone (in the police force) is bad...the police ultimately decided against arresting me, and that shows that the conscience of the police prevailed."
Kono has set aside his brush with the police, and in 2002 became one of the three members of the Public Safety Commission, which monitors the Nagano prefectural police activities.
"It's a risky job," he said, referring to the commision's involvement in sensitive issues such as organized crime groups.
But just as he did in 1994, he takes all this in his stride.
"I have consistently stood firm in my stance that I will not run away from anyone."
Japanese agents raided key facilities of a doomsday cult Monday, searching for evidence of a terror plot before a verdict in the trial of the group's guru for a 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subways.
About 200 investigators poured into the Tokyo headquarters and 10 other centers of the Aum Shinrikyo cult in the latest raid on the group, which now calls itself Aleph. Investigators did not immediately detain any suspects Monday.
The raids come ahead of the Feb. 27 verdict in the murder trial of Shoko Asahara, who is accused of masterminding the Tokyo attack that killed 12 people and sickened thousands, and a series of other murders. He faces the death penalty if convicted.
The group has shown signs of greater devotion to Asahara in recent months, raising concerns it could mount a terror attack around the time of his ruling, a Public Security Intelligence Agency official said on condition of anonymity.
Agents also want to pin down the whereabouts of group leaders, the official said.
Despite a police crackdown after the March 1995 gas attack, the cult has regrouped in recent years and now has 1,650 members in Japan and 300 in Russia. The group remains under surveillance by the intelligence agency.
At its height, Aum Shinrikyo had 10,000 members in Japan and 30,000 in Russia.
The cult had a chemical and biological weapons program and produced the sarin gas used in the Tokyo attack. Asahara is also accused of killing wayward disciples and ordering the deaths of an anti-cult lawyer and his family.
So far, 11 of Asahara's followers have been sentenced to death in connection with several cult attacks. None has yet been executed.
More than a quarter of the members of a doomsday cult arrested over a deadly gas attack on Tokyo's subways returned to the group after they were released or served their prison terms, a report said Friday.
Followers of the Aum Shinrikyo cult released sarin nerve gas on three Tokyo subway lines on March 20, 1995, killing 12 people and sickening about 5,000.
Despite a police crackdown, the cult has regrouped under a new name, Aleph. It has about 1,000 members and remains under surveillance by Japan's Public Security Intelligence Agency.
Between March 1995 and January this year, police arrested 450 people over the attack. Of those, 120 rejoined Aleph, including 10 who were allegedly involved in serious crimes such as manufacturing illegal guns and helping build the plant to produce sarin, the Mainichi newspaper said, citing a security agency investigation.
Upon re-entering the cult, some were promoted to higher ranks for "carrying out (the group's) beliefs and accumulating good deeds," the Mainichi said, quoting an unidentified agency official.
Agency officials weren't immediately available for comment.
The agency is required by law to report on the cult's activities every year. It has strengthened its surveillance ahead of a scheduled court verdict for the cult's guru, Shoko Asahara, on Feb. 27, the newspaper said.
Asahara, who once claimed more than 10,000 followers, faces a possible death sentence if convicted of masterminding the subway attacks.
So far, 11 of Asahara's followers have been sentenced to death in connection with several cult attacks, including the one on the subways. None has yet been executed.
This is the fifth installment of a series on Chizuo Matsumoto, the founder of the Aum Supreme Truth cult. Aum Supreme Truth cult leader Chizuo Matsumoto, 48, left his hometown in Kumamoto Prefecture for Tokyo to pursue his goal of studying at Tokyo University.
In May 1977, he started attending the major preparatory school Yoyogi Seminar.
At the beginning of his course, he would sit in the front row and earnestly listen to lectures. But he did not achieve good grades in his studies and stopped attending classes within a few months.
"I couldn't read what was written on the blackboard anymore," he later told his lawyers and investigators. "I realized that my eyesight wouldn't get any better."
While commuting to school on the Yamanote Line, he met an 18-year-old girl who also was studying at Yoyogi Seminar and had graduated recently from high school in Chiba Prefecture.
Matsumoto married her in January the following year and his first daughter was born six months later, which provided another reason for him to stop pursuing his studies.
Before getting married, Matsumoto opened an acupuncture surgery, which also offered moxibustion treatments, in a building near Funabashi City Hall in Chiba Prefecture.
"I'll do something big in the future," Matsumoto said at the time, according to an owner of a sushi restaurant that was next to the building. The owner, 62, remembered Matsumoto as a young man who sat at the end of the counter almost every day for three hours, buying only a 600 yen sushi dish and a bottle of beer.
Although Matsumoto's business did not seem to attract many patients, at nighttime a handful of young people were seen to enter the premises, which also was where Matsumoto lived.
"I meet my friends from school and we discuss how to make this world a better place," he told the sushi shop owner.
He invited his neighbor to join the group, saying: "You can make money without serving sushi. You can change your life."
But the man did not take the invitation seriously and "thought the kid was just bluffing."
Matsumoto always talked about money, he said.
After getting married, Matsumoto began advertising his acupuncture treatments in a local paper. The advertisements stated that Matsumoto's surgery was "a comprehensive medical institution that offers rare treatments, combining modern and Chinese medicines. The institution also features a treatment from China in which acupuncture is done on ears."
The advertisements also included comments from his patients, an advertising technique that was rare at the time. Many acupuncturists did not welcome Mastumoto's ostentatious advertisements, which said his treatment helped people to lose weight.
However, the treatment of stimulating meridiens in ears through acupuncture was part of a popular diet scheme at the time, and Matsumoto apparently made a lot of money.
Then in his 20s, he came back to the sushi restaurant in a luxury car with a chauffeur and ordered sushi worth 6,000 yen. He also built a two-story house in Funabashi.
First arrest after medicine fraud
In the spring of 1982, the Metropolitan Police Department was informed of "a fellow selling strange medicine in Keio Plaza Hotel," an MPD official said.
According to information obtained by the MPD, the man was selling strange liquid in small bottles, advertising the substance as "the medicine that cures any sickness," without a license.
Matsumoto then owned a natural food store near the Takanekido Station of the Shin-Keisei Line.
A man, 62, who ran a bicycle parts shop next to his store saw Matsumoto in a black suit one day, even though he usually wore the white clothes of a doctor.
"I have an exhibition of Chinese medicine today at Keio Plaza Hotel," the neighbor said Matsumoto told him proudly.
Police officers armed with a search warrant raided Matsumoto's new residence in June of that year.
Matsumoto told police: "I'm doing good things in my own way. It's not like I'm selling poison."
But he was arrested a week later on charges of violating the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law.
It was discovered that he had made more than 10 million yen by selling the bogus medicine. An investigator, 71, said he remembered asking Matsumoto if he tried to swindle money out of old people, but Matsumoto insisted he was helping people.
Investigators also spoke to him about his hometown in Kumamoto Prefecture, but he said he no longer had anything to do with that place.
"I'm becoming one of those bad men," Matsumoto said and looked down, according to the investigator.
Matsumoto paid 200,000 yen in fines after a summary indictment. He quietly nodded when his lawyer said to him not to do "something so stupid in the future." He closed his food store.
Another investigator who inspected Matsumoto's house said he remembered that Matsumoto had a Buddhist altar in the living room and a picture of a mandala on the wall.
The widely expected death sentence to be handed down on Shoko Asahara, the founder of the AUM Shinrikyo cult that is blamed for the 1995 subway gas attack in Tokyo, would result in "a loss for mankind," an imprisoned Russian cult follower said Friday.
Asahara "has become enlightened through spiritual training," Dmitry Sigachev said in an interview at a prison in a suburb of Vladivostok where he was sent for plotting terrorist attacks in Japan in a bid to free Asahara from detention.
The Tokyo District Court is scheduled to hand down its ruling on Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, on Feb. 27. Prosecutors have demanded the death sentence.
Asahara is charged with murder for ordering the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attack and a number of other crimes committed by his followers in which more than 20 people were killed. In the gas attack on the Tokyo subway system alone, 12 were killed and thousands injured.
Although rejecting the possibility that he will act again for the group in the future in Russia, Sigachev implied he still believes in Asahara's teachings, citing a remark by a Tibetan holy figure that it does not matter whether a person lives near the master or not if that person has absolute belief in the master.
As for the sarin attack, he refused to comment. Asked about the cult group, however, Sigachev said, "I can evaluate their spiritual activities (in the past). But it is difficult to answer about other things."
Sigachev also said the attempt to restore the group in Russia is "senseless" because AUM, which has renamed itself Aleph, is a group organized by Asahara and because he "is no longer in Russia."
In January 2002, the Vladivostok district court gave Sigachev and two other Russian AUM followers prison sentences and handed down a suspended term to another for plotting terrorist attacks in Japan.
Sigachev, the plot leader, was sentenced to eight years in prison, the heaviest term among the four.
This is the fourth installment of a series on Chizuo Matsumoto, the founder of the Aum Supreme Truth cult. Chizuo Matsumoto, 48, spent the first few years of his life in Yatsushiro, a city 40 kilometers south of Kumamoto, where the Kumagawa river streams out of the mountains into the Yatsushiro Sea.
Matsumoto was born in the Takauehonmachi district of the city, formerly named Kongomura, an area known for its many igusa reed fields.
A housemaker in the neighborhood said Matsumoto's father, a tatami craftsman, had stayed in the area even after Matsumoto's arrest, but left several years ago saying he could no longer live there.
Matsumoto was born in March 1955 as the fourth son among seven siblings. In the spring of 1961, his parents sent him to a prefectural government boarding school for the blind in Kumamoto instead of a local primary school.
The students at the school were given scholarships from the central government to pay for school supplies, meals and transportation costs to return home.
His mother went to the school holding Matsumoto's hand and asked for permission to enroll him, telling school officials, "We don't have very much money. I beg you to allow my son to enroll."
At the time, Matsumoto could barely see out of his left eye due to congenital glaucoma, but his right eye was given a grade of about 1.0, which is quite normal on the Japanese scale as a grade of 1.5 is equivalent to 20-20 vision.
To enroll at the school, children usually had to have a grade under 0.3 for both eyes, but Matsumoto was allowed to enroll because his eyesight could have worsened at a later time, especially as one of his elder brothers had become completely blind.
A woman, 92, who was the school's principal at the time of Matsumoto's enrollment, said she still remembers him after 40 years because she had been more concerned about him than the other 80 primary school students.
After school, Matsumoto often stood silently near the door of the principal's room.
Whenever she asked him what had happened, Matsumoto would tightly grab the cloth around her waist while looking down and follow her along the corridor, stomping loudly on the wooden floor.
The other students were collected by their parents at the end of the school term to return home, but nobody came for Matsumoto.
He asked her once, "Why can't I go to the same school as the other children (in his home town) even though I can see?"
The former principal said, "In his mind, he seemed to believe he had been abandoned by his parents."
According to former teachers and schoolmates, Matsumoto gradually made submissive junior students who were totally blind or weak his proteges.
He was a good student and ran in a student council election for president when he was in primary school.
But he lost the election, and teachers speculated that it was because he was unpopular.
In the second semester of his second year of high school, Matsumoto revealed to his homeroom teacher after class that he wished to enter the faculty of medicine at Kumamoto University.
He said he wanted to help people with diseases and eyesight problems, but his own handicap would make it difficult for him to qualify for the entrance exam.
The teacher told Matsumoto that he had not studied one of the subjects he needed to take the entrance exam. Matsumoto became despondent and said, "Oh, is that so?"
However, the light in his room at the boarding house was often seen on after teachers asked for lights-out. Matsumoto continued studying using radio courses and kept insisting to the teacher that he wanted to go to university.
After entering the school's vocational course to become an acupuncturist, Matsumoto decided he wanted to become a politician rather than a doctor.
When he returned home, he used to read books about Mao Zedong and Buddhism until late at night.
At that time, his eyesight fell to about 0.1.
Since middle school, Matsumoto had exhibited an increasing desire to lead others.
But one of Matsumoto's former teachers said, "He never opposed senior students, which I think shows in the way he only gathered younger people to the Aum Supreme Truth cult."
After Matsumoto graduated from a two-year vocational course and started working as an acupuncturist, he visited the school's teachers' office unexpectedly.
He told the teachers he came to pick up documents necessary to take the entrance exam for Tokyo University's law faculty, but the teachers jokingly said "Isn't it just a dream?"
Matsumoto then went to Tokyo to enter a preparatory school.
Matsumoto, who was 22 at the time, told an old friend whom he happened to meet in JR Kumamoto Station on the way to Tokyo, "A man should not stay in the countryside. We must be more ambitious."
This is the third installment of a series on Chizuo Matsumoto, the founder of the Aum Supreme Truth cult. Separated by a transparent partition in the interview room of the Shinjuku Police Station, a lawyer tried to talk to a female follower of 48-year-old Chizuo Matsumoto, also known as Shoko Asahara, founder of the Aum Supreme Truth cult, into opening up to others.
"You should stop calling him guru," the lawyer said. "He tried to flee and hide when police were searching for him. He also denied that he had killed people based on his belief. Don't you think he is a coward?"
It took about nine months after her arrest in May 1995 for her to start talking. She remained silent through her first trial, which started in October 1995.
The lawyer, who did not try to force her to leave the cult, succeeded in helping her open up.
She began calling Matsumoto Mr. Asahara instead of guru and in mid-March 1996, she said she would quit Aum.
But she made an about-face in late March, telling the lawyer that she would not leave the cult.
She also told prosecutors that she would follow the guru and that the guru's prophecies would come true.
Before she changed her mind, she received several letters from the cult through the lawyer.
One of the letters read: "I want to talk to you about the highest level of enlightenment... If you do not regard the investigators' words even as mere sounds, you will be relieved of the pains inflicted by the investigators."
Another letter read: "I continue the ascetic training without taking a break even during questioning by investigators. Ascetic training in adverse circumstances is real training. I think the arrested disciples have lost their spirit."
Prosecutors believed that the letters were messages from Matsumoto.
Such letters were passed on to jailed Aum followers through lawyers.
"The effect of the letters was tremendous," a senior prosecutor said. "Many followers changed their minds after having decided to leave the cult."
Some Aum followers reportedly said that after reading the letters, they did not want to return to their cells from the interview room, saying they were getting "bad karma."
In April 1996, officials of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office began confiscating such letters and quizzed lawyers who brought the letters to the followers.
The decision was reached after much deliberation in an effort to eliminate Asahara's influence. The above-mentioned female follower's lawyer said that he had read the letters but he did not think they would be influential.
Seiichi Endo, 43, was a senior cult member sentenced to death for murder, including the deaths caused by the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system. In June the same year, Endo suddenly dismissed his lawyer, Kenji Nozaki.
In court, he also made an about-face, denying his involvement in the sarin attacks in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, and on the subway system in Tokyo.
Before he changed his mind, Endo had received letters from the cult to the effect that to deny his involvement and to endure hardships also were ascetic training, but he had already decided to admit what he did, as suggested by Nozaki.
Why did he change his mind?
Endo refused to meet with Nozaki, who went to the detention center to find out why he had been dismissed.
Prosecutors have no doubt that before Endo made his about-face, some lawyers other than Nozaki had met with Endo.
In October 1995 when Matsumoto fired his lawyers, Nozaki met with Matsumoto three times.
At the first meeting, Matsumoto had an arrogant disposition. At the second meeting, Matsumoto pleaded for help, but after Nozaki refused to defend Matsumoto at the third meeting, Matsumoto began shouting at Nozaki.
"Didn't you ask Endo to vilify me? Otherwise, he wouldn't be exonerated from the blame," Matsumoto said to Nozaki without listening to Nozaki's reply.
He then told Nozaki to "get lost."
"Matsumoto is a guy who only cares about himself," Nozaki said.
Nevertheless, Matsumoto still exerts a great influence on his jailed disciples.
Endo, once a student at Kyoto University graduate school's virus research department, became the health and welfare minister of the cult's "government" after dropping out of the school.
Before he dismissed Nozaki, Endo said, "This guru with supernatural power was a frightening man."
The Supreme Court has upheld lower court rulings sentencing a former member of the Aum Shinrikyo cult to life in prison for murder for his role as a driver in the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, court sources said Tuesday.
As demanded by the prosecutors, the Tokyo District Court in 2000 and the Tokyo High Court the following year sentenced Kiyotaka Tonozaki, 40, to a life term. Tonozaki appealed to the Supreme Court in 2002. The court's ruling was dated Monday.
This is the first installment of a series on Chizuo Matsumoto, 48, also known as Shoko Asahara, the founder of the Aum Supreme Truth cult. Matsumoto is scheduled to be sentenced by the Tokyo District Court on Feb. 27 on charges, including those related to the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.
On the morning of May 16, 1995, police searched the Satian No. 6 building of Aum's complex in Kamikuishikimura, Yamanashi Prefecture. Matsumoto was arrested after he was found in a hideout in the building. Immediately after the arrest, Masaharu Yamada of the Metropolitan Police Department, who directed the arrest, recalled seeing Asahara walking on a magazine-strewn pathway on the second floor.
Matsumoto was holding on to the shoulders of two police officers, and his fat body was faltering. His purplish pajamalike clothes were wrinkled and stains. There were no batteries in the headgear left in his hideout, which the cult members said was used for their meditations.
"Is this miserable man truly the guru Asahara?" Yamada wondered.
The MPD force searching the building that day were armed as they assumed that gunfights with Matsumoto's followers were a possibility. Many of the personnel, however, were stunned by Asahara's appearance.
The three-story building, measuring about 43 meters north to south and 23 meters east to west, looked like a huge warehouse. Matsumoto was found by investigators in a space located above the ceiling of a second-floor room in the southeast part of the building. The room measured about 3.3 meters by one meter at the base and was about half a meter high. A sleeping bag and some other items were found in the room.
"Are you Asahara?" one of the investigators asked.
Matsumoto said, "Yes."
He was told to come out of the hideout. But he said, "I can't to do it alone."
The MPD police sergeant and another investigator climbed stepladders and asked him to come out again.
Matsumoto put his feet on their shoulders. "I'm sorry that I'm heavy," he said. His legs were trembling.
But as soon as he was taken to a small room on the same floor for a health check-up and surrounded by six police investigators, his attitude suddenly changed.
He abruptly sat down. When Yamada asked him if there was something wrong with his health, Matsumoto said, "Nothing."
When a doctor who was accompanying the police officers tried to take Matsumoto's pulse, Matsumoto shouted: "Stop it! I'll get your karma!"
He then brushed away the doctor's hand. Yamada tried to persuade him to comply with the doctor, saying that the doctor was there for his benefit. Matsumoto continued to try to keep the doctor away from him.
"No! No!" he shouted. "My power will wane," he said as raised his arms.
Yamada did not give up, saying, "Investigators won't touch you."
Matsumoto finally gave in and let the doctor take his pulse. A couple of minutes later, Matsumoto was handcuffed.
A day earlier, senior MPD officers concluded Matsumoto was in the Satian No. 6 building based on information they had gathered.
Information about his whereabouts was obtained from an anonymous phone call. "Matsumoto is meditating in a second-floor mezzanine," the caller said.
Seiichi Endo, 43, then a senior Aum member, who had been arrested and taken into custody, also told the police: "That information must be correct. Since the guru is in bad health, please take very, very good care of him."
The investigators, however, soon found after the search at the building began at 5:25 a.m. that there was no second-floor mezzanine believed to be located between the first floor and the second floor. After two hours of searching, they had yet to find where Matsumoto was hiding. They were irritated, and Yukihiko Inoue, the then superintendent of the MPD, who was staying at the MPD headquarters, several times asked those around him, "Not yet?"
It was past 9 a.m. when Matsumoto was found in the hideout.
One of the investigators said: "I think the anonymous lead as well as Endo's statements were aimed to confuse the investigation in a bid to prevent Asahara from being arrested. Such moves may have been a sign that the cult was making desperate attempts to resist the police as they it was on the brink of collapse."
After Matsumoto was handcuffed, he barely spoke. There were about 400 reporters and cameramen surrounding him, but he remained silent while he was taken to a police van.
But in the car heading for the MPD, Matsumoto became talkative after investigators asked him about religion. "Hell is divided into three worlds... Heaven is..." He spoke on and on about his theories, and the investigators were appalled, they said.
Yamada, who retired from the MPD four years ago, said he no longer thought much about Matsumoto. But when he hears about the eccentric behaviors of other cult group members, his fears about mind control return.
"I wonder why such a childish man was so admired by so many cult members," Yamada said. The answer is unknown.
Masami Tsuchiya, a former senior member of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, appealed Tuesday a ruling that sentenced him to death for the 1995 poison gas attack on the Tokyo subway and six other cases.
Tsuchiya, 39, filed the appeal at the Tokyo High Court over the judgment Friday by the Tokyo District Court convicting him of playing a key role in the murder of 13 people in crimes committed by the sect, including the Tokyo subway sarin gas attack in March 1995 that left 12 dead and thousands injured.
A Japanese court has sentenced a former senior member of the Aum Shinri Kyo doomsday cult to death for his role in making the poison used in a 1995 gas attack on Tokyo's subway that killed 12 people.
The ruling by the Tokyo District Court on Friday came less than a month before it hands down a decision against cult guru Shoko Asahara, who stands accused of masterminding the sarin nerve gas attack, which also made over 5,000 people ill.
A court spokesman confirmed the death sentence on 39-year-old Masami Tsuchiya.
Tsuchiya was accused of murder and attempted murder for the Tokyo subway incident as well as a gas attack in a residential area in Matsumoto in central Japan in June 1994 that killed seven and hurt 144, Kyodo news agency said.
Tsuchiya, a chemist, was charged in five other cases, including three incidents in which VX nerve gas was used to kill or harm people, Kyodo said.
He had pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Tsuchiya is the 11th Aum member to be sentenced to death. The other 10 have filed appeals. Four of them have filed a second appeal after their death sentences were upheld by high courts.
Prosecutors have also demanded the death penalty against Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto. The Tokyo District Court will hand down a ruling on February 27.
The doomsday cult, which Asahara set up in 1987, at one point attracted a 15,000-strong following in Japan. It preached that the world was coming to an end and that the cult must arm itself to prepare for calamities.
Aum has since changed its name to Aleph -- the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet -- and insists it is now a benign religious group, but the Japanese authorities say it is still a threat and keep it under strict surveillance.
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