Cultist tied to VX nerve gas, Kariya killings draws 15 years

Aum Shinrikyo follower Satoru Hirata was given a 15-year prison term Mar. 18 in connection with VX nerve gas attacks that targeted three people, including one who died, and the confining and killing of a Tokyo notary in conspiracy with other cultists.

Presiding Judge Atsushi Senba of the Tokyo District Court, in handing down the decision, said the defendant played important roles in the felonies, which had been organized and premeditated, but his participation was as an accessory. Hirata left the cult after being arrested.

Concerning the extenuating circumstances as presented by Hirata’s defense counsel, the judge said the defendant had followed instructions in the full knowledge they were illegal. Just because the doctrine of Shoko Asahara, the founder of Aum Shinrikyo, had a great affect on Hirata’s way of thinking does not give him immunity from responsibility, he said. During the trial, prosecutors had demanded a 20-year prison term.

According to the court, Hirata, in conspiracy with Asahara and others, exposed three people to the nerve gas in the period between December 1994 and January 1995, killing Tadahito Hamaguchi, 28, and leaving the others seriously injured. Asahara, who is on trial in connection with several serious crimes, has yet to be convicted of any charges.