Sarin killer’s death penalty is finalized

by Jun Hongo

Rejecting his appeal, the Supreme Court on Friday finalized the death sentence of senior Aum Shinrikyo cultist Yasuo Hayashi, a key figure in the deadly 1995 sarin gas attack on Tokyo’s subway system.

Hayashi was convicted of murder and attempted murder for his role in the subway gassing, which left 12 dead and some 5,500 injured, and for his involvement in dispersing sarin in June 1994 in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture. He was also found guilty of aiding a failed attempt to release cyanide gas in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station in May 1995.

The Tokyo District Court in June 2000 condemned Hayashi, a ruling the Tokyo High Court upheld in December 2003.

The top court’s Second Petty Bench, led by Justice Yuki Furuta, unanimously agreed that Hayashi’s deeds showed “the utmost malevolence,” ruling his terrorist acts resulted in the death or injury of thousands of innocent civilians.

“The inhumane and cruel nature of the crimes and the gravity of the outcome are unprecedented,” Furuta said.

“Even if the court was to take into consideration that a superior in the cult ordered the defendant to take part in the subway attacks, there are no alternatives but to accept” the lower court verdicts, he said.

Hayashi did not appear for Friday’s ruling.

Five cultists dispersed sarin in three subway lines during the morning rush hour on March 20, 1995. Hayashi, who took a Hibiya Line train from Ueno Station, volunteered to carry three packets of the nerve gas and pierced them with the tip of his umbrella near Akihabara Station. Eight of the 12 deaths from the coordinated attack stemmed from the sarin Hayashi released, the courts said.

Hayashi also had a hand in the Matsumoto gassing, which killed seven and injured hundreds, and abetted the foiled cyanide attack at Shinjuku. The cultist was on the run for 18 months, and following his arrest in December 1996 on Okinawa’s remote Ishigaki Island, tabloids dubbed him “the killing machine” for his commitment to Aum.

All of Hayashi’s crimes were “organized and indiscriminate mass murder and murder attempts to challenge the state,” the top court said.

Hayashi is the fifth Aum member to have a death sentence finalized. The others are Masato Yokoyama, who also took part in the subway attack, Kazuaki Okazaki and Satoru Hashimoto, both convicted for murdering an anti-Aum lawyer and his family in 1989, and Aum founder Shoko Asahara.

Two others involved in the subway attack are appealing high court rulings. Another, Ikuo Hayashi, a former doctor, received a life sentence in exchange for cooperating with police.

The Supreme Court in September 2006 rejected a special appeal by lawyers for Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, and finalized his death sentence for masterminding a total of 13 crimes. The guru’s defense team had argued his innocence on grounds that he was mentally unfit to stand trial.

During his trial, Hayashi, 49, had argued that his fear of Asahara forced him to take part in the killings, and demanded the court reduce his sentence. He also apologized for his crimes, telling the Tokyo District Court in 1998 that he was “truly sorry for the people who lost their lives” in the subway attack.

Shizue Takahashi, spokeswoman for an Aum victims group, said Friday’s ruling was a matter of course.

“It must be clarified that Hayashi was not acting only on orders from Matsumoto. He was actively involved in dispersing the sarin gas, and eluded capture for over a year after the crime,” Takahashi, a widow of a subway employee who died in the gas attack, told reporters after the top court’s verdict.