Aum Shinri-kyo and Related Controversies
Japan's creaking justice system is finally catching up with the doomsday cultists who spread Nazi-invented Sarin gas in the Tokyo subways in March 1995.
But their guru, Shoko Asahara, alleged mastermind of the March 1995 rush-hour subway gassing that killed 12 people and injured thousands, is expected to be the last to face justice.
Seven of his once-devoted disciples have already been condemned to death by hanging -- four in the past month alone -- and another five face life in prison.
Only five followers have yet to hear a verdict for major crimes, ranging from poison gas attacks to strangulations, and those are expected within two years.
But Asahara, who faces 17 charges including murder for masterminding the subway attack, is likely to elude a final sentence for more than a decade, legal analysts say.
"It cannot help but take a lot of time because Asahara is involved in all the cases," said Tokyo's Chuo University criminal law honorary professor Yasumasa Shimomura.
"The Aum Sarin (gas) case is totally unprecedented," Shimomura told AFP. "I am afraid that it will take roughly 10 years to complete the whole of his trial."
The 45-year-old sect guru, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, is still in the first stage of his complex trial, which started at the Tokyo District Court in April 1996.
Prosecutors have only finished outlining their evidence for 11 of the 17 charges. Asahara's lawyers have not even started giving their own side of the evidence.
While most of the followers admitted their crimes at least in part, their leader has pleaded not guilty.
He has consistently attempted to disrupt proceedings, speaking English, chanting supposedly religious incantations, refusing to answer questions and making unintelligible sounds.
The cult leader has repeatedly been thrown out of the courtroom.
"It is difficult to define his role and to specify his responsibility," said Osaka International University criminal law professor Akira Iida.
"Considering the current pace of his trial, I would say it will take 10 years to see a final judgement," Iida said.
Even if Asahara is condemned to death, as expected, he would likely last at least another 15 years before going to the scaffold as a 70-year-old man, according to legal experts.
Facing public disquiet, prosecutors cut the number of pieces of evidence and reduced the official number of victims of the subway attack from 3,900 to the 12 who were killed.
"We cautiously want to consider what we need in order to conclude the case as quickly as possible," a senior prosecutor said, according to the Asahi Shimbun.
But Asahara's lawyers are unwilling to roll over.
"We really need to check every single item of the evidence," said Asahara's chief lawyer, Osamu Watanabe. "We cannot agree on emotional demands that the court should just put an end to the trial as quickly as possible."
Capital punishment here is carried out by hanging, although an average of only seven criminals a year have actually been executed in recent years.
However support for the death sentence is rising in Japan.
A record 80 percent of Japanese people said they supported death penalty in a government survey of 5,000 people last November, up 5.5 percentage points from 1994.
Only 8.8 percent said the death penalty should be abolished, down 4.8 points from five years earlier, according to the poll, which had a response rate of 72 percent.
The Tokyo District Court on Friday sentenced former senior Aum Shinrikyo member Kiyohide Hayakawa to death for playing a key role in the killing of an anti-Aum lawyer, his wife and child, and an Aum member who wanted to leave the cult.
Hayakawa became the seventh person to be sentenced to death for a series of crimes by Aum Shinrikyo members.
Hayakawa was also tried for his role in the cult's construction of a plant to mass-produce nerve gas.
In handing down his ruling, Presiding Judge Kaoru Kanayama said Hayakawa, 51, was actively involved in the November 1989 killings of lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, 33, his wife, Satoko, 29, and their 1-year-old son, Tatsuhiko, at their home in Yokohama.
``There is no other way but to give him capital punishment, given the fact that he had committed murders in conspiracy with Aum founder Chizuo Matsumoto,'' the judge said.
According to the ruling, Matsumoto considered the layer a serious threat to Aum, and ordered Hayakawa and other Aum members to murder him. They followed the order.
The judge also said that serious punishment was warranted, given the motive of the crime.
The ruling said that Hayakawa gave fellow Aum members a signal to break into the Sakamoto family's apartment. Hayakawa then tied up the lawyer and strangled his wife, according to the ruling.
The judge dismissed the defense's argument that Hayakawa played a minor role in the killings.
Sakamoto had been helping people trying to persuade their family members to leave the cult.
Hayakawa was also convicted for the February 1989 strangling of 21-year-old Shuji Taguchi, an Aum member who wanted to leave the cult.
The ruling said that Matsumoto had ordered Hayakawa and other members to kill Taguchi. That killing began a series of murders committed by Aum members eager to protect the cult.
Hayakawa was also convicted for his role in the construction of a sarin plant at an Aum facility in Yamanashi Prefecture. Aum members used sarin gas in a 1994 attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, and in the 1995 attack on the Tokyo subway system. The two crimes claimed 19 lives and injured thousands of people.
Prosecutors have been demanding the death sentence for Hayakawa since last December.
The defense had asked the court for a lighter sentence, saying Hayakawa was merely acting on Matsumoto's orders.
The judge said that although Hayakawa was indeed carrying out orders from Matsumoto-the supreme authority in the cult-he must still be held responsible for his acts, because of his adherence to cult teachings that do not forbid such acts.
Hayakawa's defense has filed an appeal.
"Atrocious and extremely cruel" Kiyohide Hayakawa will hang for the killings he carried out for doomsday cult AUM Shinrikyo after the Tokyo District Court sentenced him to death Friday. Among the seven charges of which the court found Hayakawa guilty was a conviction for the 1989 slaughter of lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife Satoko and their 1-year-old baby Tatsuhiko in the family's Yokohama home.
Presiding Judge Kaoru Kanayama said it was "extremely cruel" of Hayakawa to murder Tatsuhiko after his mother had used her final breath to plea for the infant's life.
"[Hayakawa] faithfully obeyed [cult guru Shoko Asahara's] orders to the letter and played a leading and important role in the murder of the Sakamoto family," Kanayama said as he ordered Hayakawa to die. "Ignoring a final entreaty to spare the life of the son was an atrocious and extremely cruel crime."
Hayakawa's lawyers said they would appeal against the ruling on behalf of their client.
Sachiyo Sakamoto, the 68-year-old mother of the slain lawyer welcomed the news that Hayakawa is to be executed.
"I want him to really feel how horrible it is to kill someone," she said. "I want him to look death in the face."
During the trial, Hayakawa had told the court that he was prepared to die to pay for his crimes.
His death penalty is the third handed to an AUM member in connection with the Sakamoto slayings and the seventh for cultists for their killing spree from the late '80s to mid-'90s.
Kanayama was particularly harsh when it came to the Sakamoto murders.
"Sakamoto was the effective leader of a group opposed to AUM and posed a major obstacle to the cult's future, so he was killed because [Asahara] decided that he had to be," Kanayama said, acknowledging that the killings were carried out under Asahara's orders.
"[Hayakawa] was one of the leading figures in the killings, having scouted the Sakamoto home where the killings took place and strangling Satoko.
"Even though Satoko used her final breath to beg that the child's life be spared, the plea was ignored in an act that goes completely against all human ethics," Kanayama said.
Hayakawa was also convicted of the February 1989 strangling of 21-year-old Shuji Taguchi, who wanted to leave the cult.
Hayakawa assembled a plant in Yamanashi Prefecture to produce lethal sarin gas after procuring equipment and raw materials for it between 1993 and 1994.
The gas was used during the cult's deadly attacks on Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in 1994, and the assault on the Tokyo subway system the following year. Combined, the sarin attacks cost 19 lives and left thousands more sickened.
Courts have already ordered the execution of Kazuaki Okazaki, 39, and Satoru Hashimoto, 33, in connection with the Sakamoto slayings. Okazaki has appealed against the sentence.
Hayakawa, Okazaki and Hashimoto, as well as Tomomasa Nakagawa and Tomomitsu Niimi have been charged over the Sakamoto killings. Asahara is charged with masterminding the killings. Verdicts have yet to be handed to Nakagawa, Niimi and the guru.
The Tokyo District Court on Friday sentenced former senior AUM Shinrikyo cult member Kiyohide Hayakawa to hang for his role in two separate murder cases and for building a plant to mass-produce nerve gas.
In handing down his ruling, Presiding Judge Kaoru Kanayama said Hayakawa, 51, played a leading role on his own initiative in the November 1989 killings of lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, 33, his wife, Satoko, 29, and their 1-year-old son Tatsuhiko at their home in Yokohama.
Hayakawa's lawyers said they immediately appealed the ruling on behalf of their client. He is the seventh person to be sentenced to death for a series of crimes involving AUM.
The judge criticized Hayakawa's defense that he was only following the orders of AUM founder Shoko Asahara, 45, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, saying he conspired with Asahara to kill the family.
''It is unforgivable that he showed no hesitation to kill in the interest of the religious group. There is no room at all for mercy. We cannot see even a fragment of humanity in him,'' he said.
It was particularly cruel of Hayakawa and his accomplices that they ignored Satoko's plea not to kill the infant, the judge said.
The lawyer had been aiding families of cult members who were seeking their defection from the cult.
Hayakawa was also convicted for the February 1989 strangling of 21-year-old Shuji Taguchi, a cultist who wanted to leave AUM.
Hayakawa assembled a sarin plant at an AUM facility in Yamanashi Prefecture, west of Tokyo, after procuring equipment and raw materials for it between 1993 and 1994, the court ruled.
Sarin gas was used in the 1994 attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, and the 1995 attack on the Tokyo subway system. The two crimes claimed 19 lives and injured thousands.
Public prosecutors sought the death sentence last December for Hayakawa, while his defense counsel had asked the court for a lighter sentence, saying he was merely obeying the orders of Asahara.
Hayakawa, known among AUM followers as the cult's ''construction minister,'' has admitted to all seven charges against him. He told the court last October that he was ready to pay for the crimes with his life.
In connection with the Sakamoto killings, former senior AUM member Kazuaki Okazaki, 39, was sentenced to death in October 1998 and Satoru Hashimoto, 33, on Tuesday, both in line with prosecutors' demands. Okazaki has appealed his sentence.
Hayakawa, Okazaki and Hashimoto, as well as Tomomasa Nakagawa, another former AUM member, and incumbent AUM member Tomomitsu Niimi were indicted over the Sakamoto killings, while Asahara has been indicted on charges of masterminding the murders.
Hayakawa, who had been a prominent member of AUM since the cult's early days in 1986, is alleged to have visited Sakamoto in October 1989 with other senior AUM members to force him to retract his criticisms of the group.
TOKYO, July 28 (Reuters) - A Japanese court sentenced a seventh former member of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult to death on Friday for murders linked to the group's killing of a man who wanted to leave the group and a lawyer investigating the cult.
Kiyohide Hayakawa, 51, had been charged with the murder of a lawyer opposed to the cult along with his wife and year-old baby in 1989 and also for strangling a member who tried to quit.
Tokyo District Court Judge Kaoru Kanayama said Hayakawa deserved the penalty because he played the main role in the extremely brutal killing of the family of lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto.
``It is unforgiveable that he showed no hesitation to kill in the interests of the religious group,'' Kyodo news agency quoted Kanayama as saying. ``There is no room at all for mercy. We cannot see even a fragment of humanity in him.''
Hayakawa, known as the cult's ``construction minister'' had also been charged with building a factory to produce the sarin gas unleashed in an attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995 that killed 12 people and injured thousands.
Hayakawa is the seventh Aum member to receive the death penalty for his involvement in the subway gas attack and the third ordered to hang for the murder of the Sakamoto family.
Executions in Japan are by hanging, but take place only rarely. Most of those condemned spend many years in prison.
Murdered lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, one of Aum's most vocal critics, had been investigating its activities.
IGNORED MOTHER'S PLEAS
Prosecutors said Hayakawa and other cult members crept into the home of Sakamoto as he, his wife and son slept, injected them with lethal doses of potassium chloride and strangled them.
The defence argued Hayakawa was merely obeying the orders of cult leader Shoko Asahara. The judge said the accused had conspired with Asahara in the murder of the Sakamoto family.
The judge noted it was particularly cruel of Hayakawa and other members involved in the murder to have ignored the mother's desperate plea for them not to kill her baby son, Kyodo said.
Lawyers for Hayakawa said they had immediately appealed against the ruling, Kyodo said.
The murders drew public attention to the cult even before the lethal subway gas attack in March 1995 that shocked a nation that had long prided itself on the safety of its citizens.
Of the five cult members charged with the Tokyo subway attack, four have received the death penalty and one life imprisonment.
Most of Aum's leaders are behind bars, but worries about the cult's activities prompted the government to place it under surveillance in February for three years.
The cult has changed its name to Aleph -- the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet -- and insists it is now a benign religious group. In the past, it preached that the world was coming to an end and that the cult must arm itself to prepare for calamities.
LEADER'S TRIAL TO DRAG ON
On Tuesday, cult member Satoru Hashimoto, 33, was found guilty for his part in the murder of the Sakamoto family as well as for a 1994 sarin gas attack on a central Japanese city that killed seven people and injured scores.
Last week, two other Aum members were sentenced to death for murder and attempted murder for their roles in releasing sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway incident.
The two, Toru Toyoda, 32, and Kenichi Hirose, 36, are appealing against their sentences.
Last month, another leading member of the cult, Yasuo Hayashi, 42 -- dubbed a ``murder machine'' by the media for his crimes -- was sentenced to death because, the judge said, he released the largest amount of poisonous sarin gas in the subway attack.
Kazuaki Okazaki, another former senior Aum member, was sentenced to death in 1998 for the murder of the Sakamoto family -- the first death sentence handed down to Aum members.
Cult leader Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, remains on trial for organising the gassing and 16 other charges.
Asahara's trial is now in its fifth year and could go on much longer given Japan's notoriously snail-paced court system, with some legal experts saying it may well take more than 15 years to reach a final verdict.
Three Aum Shinrikyo figures, two of whom were sentenced to death for their involvement in the 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system, filed appeals Tuesday with the Tokyo High Court, sources close to the defendants said.
Toru Toyoda, 32, and Kenichi Hirose, 36, are appealing their death sentences, and Shigeo Sugimoto, 41, his life sentence for his involvement in the attack, all meted out by the Tokyo District Court on July 17.
At the time of their trial, attorneys representing Toyoda and Hirose had argued the death sentence is too severe.
They said it would be absurd if the two received the same sentence as that expected for the cult's founder, Shoko Asahara, the alleged mastermind of theattack, and argued Toyoda and Hirose had been controlled by the guru, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto.
Sugimoto's attorneys argued he only assisted in the gassing, and asked for his sentence to be commuted.
The district court, however, ruled Toyoda and Hirose were largely responsible for the attack, which it called cruel and indiscriminate.
The court said the attackers targeted five trains on the Tokyo subway system on March 20, 1995 during the morning rush hour. Toyoda boarded a Hibiya Linetrain and Hirose a Marunouchi Line train to release the sarin. Twelve people died in the attack and thousands were injured.
Sugimoto served as a driver for Yasuo Hayashi, 42, another member of the squad. Hayashi was sentenced to death last month and has appealed the sentence.
The three defendants were also on trial in connection with various other charges. Toyoda in May 1995 attempted to kill then Tokyo Gov. Yukio Aoshima by mailing a parcel bomb to the metropolitan government office in Shinjuku Ward, according to the court.
The package exploded when Aoshima's secretary opened it, causing the secretary to lose all the fingers of his left hand.
From 1994 to 1995, Toyoda, Hirose and Asahara planned the illicit manufacture of 1,000 automatic rifles modeled on Russian-made AK-47s and succeeded in producing one at an Aum facility.
The court also ruled that Sugimoto conspired with Asahara and other Aum members to kill two Aum followers in 1994.
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