Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


The Challenger

Tsutsumi Sakamoto with wife, Satoko, and infant son, Tatsuhiko
Tsutsumi Sakamoto with wife, Satoko, and infant son, Tatsuhiko

Tsutsumi Sakamoto, a 33- year-old lawyer from Yokohama, hearing of the parents' anguish, offered his services to mount a legal challenge against Aum. Sakamoto had built a career representing the oppressed and downtrodden. A graduate of the elite Tokyo University law school, he quickly established a reputation as a hard-working human rights lawyer.

Even though his work was highly important in his life, the pride of Sakamotos world was his family, his wife, Satoko, and baby son, Tatsuhiko. They were a very close family. When she wasnt looking after their14-month-old son, Satoko worked part-time at her husband's practice, sharing his love and enthusiasm for human rights.

 Initially Sakamoto agreed to act on behalf of one family to seek release of its under-age daughter from the clutches of Aum. Word of his work quickly spread. Soon many more families and individuals approached him to act for them. By October, Sakamoto was preparing actions for 23 individual cases, all directed at Aum.

Sakamoto was no stranger to cult behavior, having taken on the "Moonies" several years earlier. The brief was complicated. The first order of business was to organize the individual complainants into a group called the Society of Aum Supreme Truth Victims. Secondly, Sakamoto contacted Aum to negotiate on behalf of the parents for "fair and proper access" to their children. Aum officials greeted his initial inquiries with polite indifference. This bought him into direct contact with Aums chief legal counsel, Yoshinobu Aoyama. At 29, Aoyama was a brilliant lawyer from a wealthy family, credited with being the youngest student to pass the tough bar exams at the Kyoto University Law school. Having joined Aum in 1988, his shrewd legal abilities had quickly elevated him to a position of influence within the sect as principal legal advisor to Shoko Asahara.

Aoyamas first counter to Sakamotos lawsuits was his offer to schedule a meeting between one of Sakamotos clients and her daughter. Sakamoto was in no mood for soft negotiations and firmly presented a case for the release of all of the children in question. He pressed even further when he advised Aoyama that he also acted on behalf of a former sect member who had undergone Asaharas "blood initiation." The basis of the claim was that the person had paid for the treatment and had experienced none of the benefits that he had been told to expect. His request was simple, the treatment hadnt performed, so he wanted his money back.

The media soon learned of Sakamotos dealings with Aum and, shortly after his first contact with Aoyama, he was interviewed on radio and television stating unequivocally that Aum was guilty of holding members against their will, fraud and unethical practices.

Asaharas response was swift. Handbills, attempting to discredit Sakamoto, were distributed throughout Yokohama followed by threatening phone calls to his home and office. Sakamotos response to the threats was to increase the legal pressure on the sect.

On 31st October 1989, a deputation led by Aoyama visited Sakamoto in his office in an attempt to defend the criticism of the blood initiation matter. Aoyama insisted that a "scientific study" had shown that Asaharas blood did contain "a secret power."

Sakamoto informed him that he had contacted the leading medical school that had supposedly ran the tests and found that no such tests had been undertaken. Aoyama countered, stating that a graduate of the same medical school had conducted the tests in an Aum laboratory. Sakamoto demanded to see written confirmation of the test results.

Aoyama angrily accused Sakamoto of mounting a campaign against religious freedom. The meeting broke down shortly after.

Two days later, Asahara called a meeting with his leading henchmen to discuss the Sakamoto problem. His instructions were clear and straight to the point; something had to be done to silence Sakamoto. Asahara was mindful of the damage that a lawsuit could do. Aums status as an official religion was still in the probationary stage and would be quickly revoked if a legal scandal ensued. A move that could mean the end of his rapidly expanding empire.

The guru was told by his inner circle that they had a drug that could kill a man in five minutes. There was some discussion regarding the method of administering the drug until it was suggested that Sakamoto be dragged into a car and injected. Dr. Tomamasa Nakagawa, one of the cult physicians, was eager to carry out his masters instructions. Asahara then gave the order and the attack was scheduled for the following day.

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