Aum Shinrikyo’s former chief chemist was sentenced to death Friday for murder and other charges related to the deadly sarin gas attack the doomsday cult unleashed on the Tokyo subway system in 1995.
Seiichi Endo, 42, was handed the sentence by the Tokyo District Court. He is the ninth member of Aum condemned to hang.
Endo faced charges in five criminal cases, including murders and an attempted murder between May 1994 and April 1995.
Presiding Judge Satoru Hattori ruled that Endo, acting on orders from cult founder Shoko Asahara, played a key role in the murders by producing the sarin gas. Hattori did not accept an argument by the defense that Endo, a chemistry expert, was unaware the lethal gas would be used to kill people.
It was the first time that a court ruling has been handed down to an Aum member accused of producing sarin gas. Endo is believed to have played a central role in the cult’s production of biochemical weapons together with Tomomasa Nakagawa and Masami Tsuchiya, who are still on trial.
A native of Sapporo, Endo joined Aum in 1987 while still enrolled as a graduate student of virology at Kyoto University.
During earlier sessions of the trial, Endo admitted producing the deadly gas used in the subway attack on March 20, 1995, which left 12 people dead and thousands others injured.
Endo has told the court that he acted on the instructions of Asahara, 47, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto. Asahara is the alleged mastermind behind the cult’s crimes and is being tried separately at the district court.
Endo was also found guilty of playing a role in a sarin attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in June 1994 that killed seven people and injured 144.
Endo again denied any intent to kill, claiming he was simply on standby at the site and did not think the biochemical weapon he had created was going to be used to kill people.
His lawyers called for leniency from the court, claiming Endo had been brainwashed by Asahara and was therefore in a state of diminished responsibility.
They also argued that Endo’s cooperation with investigators, which included providing detailed statements about the cases after his arrest, amounts to legal surrender and that a death penalty should not be applied to him.
Hattori responded that while Endo may have been acting on Asahara’s instructions, he nevertheless committed the crimes of his own free will.
“The accused played a key role (in the murders) by producing the sarin gas, knowing that the gas would be used (in the subway attack) so as to prevent an imminent police raid on the cult,” Hattori said.
Endo was “fully aware that the gas would be used to kill people,” Hattori said.
Touching on his responsibility in the gas attack in Matsumoto, Hattori noted that Endo, who accompanied the other cult members releasing the gas, was fully aware of the toxic nature of sarin.