Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


Death Sentence

On February 27, 2004, Mainichi Shimbun reported that Shoko Asahara, the founder of the AUM Shinrikyo cult had been sentenced to death in the Tokyo District Court after being convicted on 13 charges that claimed the lives of 27 victims.

Security around the court had earlier been increased to guard against any interruption or reprisal from Asaharas still loyal followers.   Subway security within Tokyo had also been reviewed.

According to a report, nearly 5000 people lined up outside the court building in the hope of getting one of the 38 seats available in the public gallery but spectators had already been chosen by lottery.  

Presiding Judge Shoji Ogawa handed down the ruling saying: The crimes were cruel and inhuman, and his responsibility as the mastermind behind all the cases is extremely grave. He deserves the maximum punishment.  He had dreams of being delivered from earth's bonds and attempted to rule Japan as a king under the pretext of salvaging people. He had a selfish dogma of killing those who he thought were obstructing his bid, and armed his cult.   He threw people in Japan and overseas into terror. It was an unprecedentedly brutal and serious crime.

Judge Ogawa then aimed his criticism at the accused:  It's impossible to describe the feelings of the victims of his crime. However, the defendant has failed to express an apology, and placed the blame on his followers.

The court found that Shoko Asahara had:

  • Masterminded all the 13 cases over which he was indicted.
  • Ordered the 1989 murder of anti-AUM lawyer Tstumi Sakamoto, his wife and their infant son.
  • Ordered the June 1994 sarin gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture that left seven residents dead.
  • Ordered the March 1995 sarin attacks on Tokyo subway trains that killed 12 passengers and subway workers and sickened thousands of others.
  • Sprayed VX gas on three people, killing one of them.
  • Masterminded the abduction of a notary in February 1995 in a bid to find the whereabouts of a relative, who had escaped from the cult, and fatally injecting him with excessive amounts of anesthesia.
  • Prepared to carry out murder by ordering the construction of a sarin plant between 1993 and 1994.
  • Ordered the murder of three cult followers.
  • Ordered a sarin attack on another anti-cult lawyer in 1994 in an unsuccessful bid to kill him.
  • Undertaken the illegal production of small firearms in the mid-1990s.

No Emotion

At the end of the four-hour judgment Judge Ogawa ordered Asahara to stand, and said to him I find you guilty, and sentenced him to death.

As the judgment was being read out Asahara smiled, laughed and later yawned but showed no real emotion as the death sentence was handed down.

Following the sentencing, several victims of the AUM cult told reporters that they believe Asahara deserved the death sentence.

Yoshiyuki Kono, a resident of Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture whose wife was permanently incapacitated by the 1994 sarin gassing stated:

I was expecting the Tokyo District Court to sentence him to death.  If he is discontent with the ruling, he should clearly express what he thinks in an appeal court.

Anti-AUM campaigner Seiichi Takeuchi told reporters: Although I'm against the death penalty in general, Asahara's case is exceptional.    He hasn't spoken about his true intentions during the hearings and has never made an apology.

Shizue Takahashi, widow of a subway worker killed during the gassing of Kasumigaseki Station welcomed the ruling saying: I came here with my husband's soul.  I am satisfied that he was sentenced to hang.

Following the sentencing Asaharas defense counsel advised the court that they would appeal the rulings through a higher court.

So far 11 of the 189 cult members tried have been given death sentences but none have been carried out.

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