Aum Shinri-kyo and Related Controversies
The Tokyo District Court on Tuesday sentenced to death Satoru Hashimoto, 33, a member of the so-called home affairs ministry of the Aum Supreme Truth cult, for his participation in the murder of a Yokohama lawyer and his family in 1989 and a sarin gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in 1994, which killed seven people.
In handing down the ruling, Presiding Judge Toshio Nagai said Hashimoto bore enormous criminal responsibility for the "heinous and inhuman act" of killing the lawyer and his family.
The judge also said nothing could excuse Hashimoto's misconduct in helping to carry out the Matsumoto sarin attack.
Lawyers for Hashimoto said immediately they would appeal the ruling.
Six members of Aum, including the cult's 45-year-old founder Chizuo Matsumoto, also known as Shoko Asahara, were indicted for the murders of the 33-year-old lawyer, Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his 29-year-old wife and their 1-year-old son.
This is the second time a district court has handed down a death sentence to a cult member involved in the Sakamoto killings.
Kazuaki Okazaki, 39, a former executive of the cult and the first to receive a death sentence for the killings, has already lodged an appeal.
Hashimoto is also the second of seven cult members indicted for murder and attempted murder in the Matsumoto sarin attack to be sentenced. He is the first to receive the death penalty.
The Tuesday ruling brought to six the number of cult members sentenced to death for crimes committed by the cult.
In his ruling, the judge said Aum's leader, Matsumoto, planned the murder of the Sakamotos and the sarin attack, and then ordered cult members to carry out both crimes.
The judge said that although Hashimoto only acted on the instructions of his leader, he bore serious responsibility because he took part in the crimes of his own free will.
The ruling stated that Hashimoto played a major role in the murder of the Sakamotos because he held the lawyer down and punched him in the jaw several times and kneed the lawyer's wife in the stomach.
Hashimoto had testified that he did not know that the lawyer, the man's wife and his son were family members. However, the judge said that every cult member participated in the crime "with the intention of killing all members of the Sakamoto family," and that they "bore serious responsibility for the violence they used to kill the Sakamotos."
Hashimoto, who was the driver of the car from which sarin gas was sprayed during the attack in Matsumoto, denied he intended to kill anyone, saying he thought the gas would only make people's noses run.
However, in his ruling, the judge said Hashimoto had willfully intended to kill because he did in fact know that spraying sarin could be fatal.
An Aum Shinrikyo figure was sentenced to death Tuesday for taking part in the November 1989 murders of an anti-Aum lawyer and his family and the deadly June 1994 nerve gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture.
The Tokyo District Court found Satoru Hashimoto, 32, guilty of conspiring with five other cultists to murder Yokohama lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, the attorney's wife, Satoko, and their 1-year-old son, Tatsuhiko.
Hashimoto, who had been a bodyguard for Aum guru Shoko Asahara, was also convicted of taking part in the Matsumoto sarin attack, which killed seven and injured more than 270 local residents, and in the construction of a sarin plant in Kamikuishiki, Yamanashi Prefecture.
Judge Toshio Nagai said Hashimoto deserves death because he played major roles in a series of heinous crimes, the Sakamoto murders in particular.
Hashimoto struck Sakamoto several times and held the lawyer's wife down with his knee while she was being strangled, the judge said. He said the defendant's crimes were "extremely cruel" and left no room for leniency.
The judge said he sided with prosecutors seeking capital punishment, after "considering the nature of his crimes, the motives, the grave consequences and the social impact."
Monday's ruling marked the second death sentence meted out in connection with the Sakamoto killings. The lawyer was helping parents trying to retrieve their children from the cult at the time he and his family were killed and was also preparing for a lawsuit against the cult.
Kazuaki Okazaki, another of the six cultists accused of conspiring to kill the family, was sentenced to death by the court in October 1998 for strangling the lawyer. He has filed an appeal.
Hashimoto, who joined Aum in 1988, conspired with the five other cultists, including Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, to kill the Sakamoto family in their condominium in the predawn hours of Nov. 4, 1989, the court said.
Hashimoto, reportedly a karate expert, struck Sakamoto in the jaw six or seven times and also held Sakamoto's wife down while other cultists strangled her, the court said.
The killers later buried the family. Their bodies were found in 1995 in separate mountainous locations in Toyama, Niigata and Nagano prefectures, based on Okazaki's confession.
Hashimoto also conspired with Asahara and five other Aum members to release sarin in Matsumoto and drove the five to the site, the court said. The attack was a bid to test the nerve agent's deadliness and to disrupt ongoing litigation against the cult at a nearby court. Judges hearing the case lived in the housing area targeted.
He also took part in the construction of a sarin plant in the cult's Kamikuishiki complex between 1993 and 1994 and probably manufactured some of the gas used in the Matsumoto and other attacks, the court said.
Standing before the judge in a navy blue suit and white shirt, Hashimoto showed no outward reaction when he was sentenced to hang.
The Sakamoto murders are believed to be the starting point of Aum's heinous crimes, which culminated in the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin attack, which killed 12 people.
After the ruling, Sachiyo Sakamoto, the lawyer's mother, told the attorney's former colleagues that capital punishment is unavoidable in Hashimoto's case, considering the agony and pain the victims went through.
Tomoo Takei, a lawyer who worked with Sakamoto to help parents get their children out of the cult, said it was painful for him to hear the court list the cruel deeds Hashimoto perpetrated against Sakamoto, because the defendant was one of the cultists Sakamoto was especially trying to get to leave Aum.
Monday's ruling also marked sixth time a cult figure has been sentenced to death by the court. In addition to Hashimoto and Okazaki, four were sentenced to hang for releasing sarin in the subway attack.
The court is slated to rule Friday in the trial of Kiyohide Hayakawa, 50, who stands accused of struggling with Satoko Sakamoto during the murders.
Asahara, accused of masterminding Aum's heinous crimes, remains on trial and has yet to be convicted of any of the offenses of which he stands accused.
An "evil and inhumane" former AUM Shinrikyo member who took part in the cold-blooded murders of an anti-cult lawyer and his family as well as the fatal poison gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, was given the death penalty Tuesday. Satoru Hashimoto, 33, wept as Presiding Judge Toshio Nagai handed down the capital punishment at the Tokyo District Court.
He became the sixth AUM member to get the death penalty over a series of atrocious crimes, including the indiscriminate sarin gas attack on Tokyo subway systems that killed 12 and injured thousands in March 1995, carried out by the cult.
Hashimoto's lawyers are considering to appeal the ruling.
Hashimoto was convicted of the savage murders of the anti-AUM lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, 33, his 29-year-old wife, Satoko, and their 1-year-old son, Tatsuhiko, at their home in Yokohama in November 1989.
The former cultist also paid the price for his involvement in the murderous cult's sarin gas attack in Matsumoto in June 1994, which left seven people dead and injured hundreds more, as well as constructing a sarin gas plant in Kamikuishiki, Yamanashi Prefecture, between 1993 and 1994.
Hashimoto joined AUM Shinrikyo in December 1988, while he was a law student at Tokyo's prestigious Waseda University. A karate expert, Hashimoto became cult guru Shoko Asahara's bodyguard after winning an in-house martial arts contest, the ruling said.
Prosecutors said Hashimoto showed a blind obedience to Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, and actively took part in the crimes in order be promoted within the cult.
On Nov. 4, 1989, Hashimoto and five other members of the cult broke into the Yokohama apartment of Sakamoto to carry out their guru's order to eliminate the anti-AUM lawyer.
"[Hashimoto] clambered on top of the sleeping Sakamoto and whacked him six or seven times ... then he went on to knee Satoko in the belly to subdue her," the ruling said. The attackers then ruthlessly strangled their victims.
During the Matsumoto gas attack, Hashimoto drove a vehicle that sprayed the deadly gas around the quiet residential area.
Lawyers acting for Hashimoto argued that he was just acting under the orders of his guru, but the court rejected this, saying that the former cultist was aware that his actions might result in the deaths of innocent people.
Nagai acknowledged that Hashimoto had never taken part in planning the crimes, but concluded that he has to shoulder "grave criminal responsibility" as he actively participated in them of his own free will.
During the trial, Hashimoto admitted that he attacked Sakamoto to kill him, but insisted that he had no idea that the lawyer had a wife and young child.
Prosecutors, however, demanded that he be sent to death row, saying that even an "evil fiend" would be ashamed of Hashimoto's actions, and the court agreed.
Kazuaki Okazaki, another former senior AUM member, was sentenced to death last October for the Sakamoto murders. Okazaki, 39, appealed the sentence the following month.
Former top cult member Kiyohide Hayakawa, 51, is also facing execution for his roles in numerous crimes, including the murder of the Sakamoto family. He will be sentenced at the Tokyo District Court on Friday.
Meanwhile, three former senior AUM members, two of whom are facing the death penalty for their roles in the Tokyo subway gas attack, filed an appeal with the Tokyo High Court on Tuesday.
On July 17, Toru Toyoda, 32 and Hirose Kenichi, 36, who released sarin gas in subway carriages, were sentenced to death, and Shigeo Sugimoto, 41, got life behind bars for driving the attackers to the subway stations.
TOKYO, JAPAN A member of the cult behind the 1995 nerve gas attack in Tokyo subways was sentenced to death Tuesday for killing an anti-cult lawyer and joining an earlier gas attack.
The Tokyo District Court said that Satoru Hashimoto, 33, and four other Aum Shinri Kyo cultists had been found liable in civil lawsuits for the 1989 killings of attorney Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife and infant son.
Hashimoto is the second former cultist sentenced to death in the case. Kazuaki Okazaki, 39, was sentenced in October but has appealed.
The court also found Hashimoto guilty of involvement in a 1995 sarin nerve gas attack in central Japan in 1995 that killed seven people.
Hashimoto was one of six former cultists charged in the Sakamoto killings, including cult guru Shoko Asahara. Asahara is now on trial for those murders and the 1995 attack on the Tokyo subways, which killed 12 people and sickened thousands.
Hashimoto had argued during the trial that he did not deserve the death penalty because he could not defy Asahara's orders.
Sakamoto was preparing a lawsuit against the cult when he and his family were murdered.
TOKYO -- A former member of the cult behind the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subways was sentenced to death Tuesday for killing an anti-cult lawyer and joining an earlier gas attack, the court said.
Satoru Hashimoto, 33, and four other cult members had already been found liable in civil lawsuits for the 1989 killings of attorney Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife and infant son.
Hashimoto was the second former member of the Aum Shinri Kyo cult to be sentenced to death in the case. Kazuaki Okazaki, 39, was handed the sentence last October but has appealed.
The Tokyo District Court also found Hashimoto guilty of involvement in a sarin nerve gas attack in central Japan in 1995 that killed seven people. Hashimoto helped a group of cultists spread the deadly gas.
Hashimoto was one of six former cultists charged in the Sakamoto killings, including former guru Shoko Asahara. Asahara is currently on trial for those murders and the 1995 attack on the Tokyo subways, which killed 12 people and sickened thousands of others.
Hashimoto had argued during the trial that he did not deserve the death penalty because he could not defy Asahara's orders.
"You acted at the orders of Asahara, but you bear a heavy responsibility for joining in the crime of your own will," Judge Toshio Nagai responded, Kyodo News agency reported Tuesday.
Hashimoto and four other top cultists strangled Sakamoto, his wife, and their 1-year-old son on Nov. 4, 1989, at their home in Yokohama, just south of Tokyo, at the direction of Asahara, police say.
Sakamoto was preparing a lawsuit against the cult when he was killed, accusing Aum of luring youngsters into the group. The bodies of the Sakamoto family, buried in remote mountains of central Japan, were not discovered until after the gas attack in Tokyo.
In the civil lawsuit, Hashimoto and three other cultists were ordered in 1997 to pay $4.5 million in damages to Sakamoto's parents. Asahara was found liable in an earlier court decision.
TOKYO - Two members of a Japanese doomsday cult were sentenced to death recently, but neither their families nor the public ever may learn the date or details of their execution.
Tokyo District Court issued the penalty of death by hanging on Toru Toyoda, 32, and Kenichi Hirose, 36, for their roles in the 1995 sarin nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway that killed 12 people and poisoned more than a thousand others. A third man received the death penalty this month.
The way Japan imposes the death penalty is in extraordinary contrast to a U.S. system under increasing scrutiny, including a moratorium imposed Jan. 31 in Illinois by Gov. George Ryan.
Japan, the only other industrialized nation apart from the United States to impose the death penalty, deals quietly, almost secretively, with convicts often left for decades on Death Row.
The same court sentenced to death Yasuo Hayashi, 42, dubbed "the murder machine" by the Japanese media for his part in gas and bomb attacks by the Aum Shinri Kyo, or Supreme Truth sect.
Sometime after the hangman has done his duty, a terse statement issued by the Justice Ministry will state: "Three condemned people were executed today." Normally those convicted of the same crime are executed the same day.
The names of the condemned will not be included. Their families may be notified, but only after the execution is carried out. Those about to die are given only an hour's notice, usually at 10 in the morning. One Justice Ministry explained the short notice: "They might become emotionally disturbed."
The process of taking the life of a prisoner is shrouded in so much secrecy that human-rights groups conducting surveys found many Japanese unaware the death penalty exists in their country.
All three condemned men told the court they had acted under the orders and "the mind control" of the sect's blind leader Shoko Asahara. He is on trial for masterminding the bizarre attack, and for other crimes by a cult that predicted the end of the world and ordered its members to be prepared.
But word of the convictions may be the last the public hears about those sentenced.
According to activist groups in Japan, some of the prisoners are kept 20 to 30 years on Death Row with much of that time spent in solitary confinement. Many complain of mistreatment and cruelty, sitting for weeks in a fixed position in their cell, being restrained by leather belts and handcuffs.
"The rules are so strict the prisoners are not even allowed to make eye contact with the wardens," said Shinichi Ishizuka, professor of law at Ryukoku University in Kyoto.
The death penalty is applicable for 17 crimes in Japan. Since 1993 executions have usually been carried out during the summer or Christmas holidays when parliament is not in session and there is no chance of a public debate.
It is estimated about 35 people have been executed in Japan during the past decade, although the numbers are thought to be higher. In September last year three men were hanged, but their families never were informed officially and found out only by chance.
Pressure grows for disclosure
Since 1945 independent statistics show 584 convicts have been executed in Japan and some 60 are believed to be on Death Row.
In a nation accustomed to following decisions made by bureaucrats, recent pressure for more information prompted the Justice Ministry to issue the tepid statement: "We believe the public should know about executions that are carried out in accordance with court decisions."
But, the ministry insisted, while it may give advance notice of a hanging it will not reveal who is being hanged or where.
"Thanks to outside pressure, conditions in Japanese jails are becoming better," Ishizuka said.
Still, he believes, the death penalty will remain in Japan. A government survey found 80 percent of Japanese in favor of executions.
Yet the family and friends of Norio Nagayama, who became a best-selling author while on Death Row for a spree of crimes committed 14 years ago, found out he had been executed only when his death was leaked to the media.
Nagamaya, whose books talk about how men can change, has become a cause celebre for those who oppose Japan's autocratic way of handling executions.
Still, many Japanese strongly favor the death penalty.
"I think this system of punishment of those who have done terrible things fits well with the psychology of the Japanese people," said Tadashi Uemtasu, a professor emeritus at Hitosubashi University in Tokyo. "In Japan it's important to be seen punishing people who have done wrong."
He said that while Europe may have a greater respect for human life, Japan has a greater sense of justice.
With the latest sentences, four of the men held responsible for the cult's subway attack have been given the death penalty.
The two men sentenced to death most recently also were convicted of manufacturing assault rifles and sending letter bombs to the governor of Tokyo, all part of a bizarre scheme to distract police from carrying out a raid on the cult's headquarters.
Cyanide in the toilet
Toyoda, with four other members of the cult, also was held responsible for placing bags of cyanide in a men's toilet in an underground concourse at the Shinjuku station on May 5, 1995, in a bid to distract police from their intention to arrest Asahara. Railway staff neutralized the bags.
Outside the court, relatives of those killed in the sarin attack clamored for the conviction of Asahara, who has been on trial since 1997, and has made more than 150 court appearances so far.
The three-year trial of Asahara and some of his senior associates in the Aum cult shows how easy it can be to channel commercial scams into full-fledged paranoia among followers desperate to find a new meaning in life.
The bearded guru and his main lieutenants remain in jail, as more and more testimony surfaces about murders of dissidents inside the sect, of lynching parties and plans to carry out nerve-gas attacks in the United States.
The court was told that an Aum hit squad allegedly sprayed lethal botulin bacteria on the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, but there were no casualties. The sect had claimed U.S. aircraft were spraying their headquarters with nerve gas, making its followers ill.
But court testimony indicated the sect may have released small quantities of gas itself to increase paranoia among its followers.
Asahara's sect remains active, rebuilding what was a billion-dollar financial empire of shops and computer systems.
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