The Supreme Court upheld the death sentence Monday for senior Aum Shinrikyo member Seiichi Endo for his role in two sarin attacks in the 1990s, effectively ending more than 16 years of investigation and trials involving the doomsday cult.
Endo, 51, a veterinarian and virologist, was condemned by lower courts for being the key architect of the nerve gas the cult used to deadly effect in 1994 in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, and in the 1995 gassing of the Tokyo subway system.
Endo will be the 13th member of Aum to have his death sentence finalized. Condemned founder Shoko Asahara, 56, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was convicted of masterminding the cult’s heinous crimes, and thus of murdering 27 people in 13 criminal cases.
The subway attack shocked the nation and the world, and led to startling revelations about other crimes committed by the cult in the 1980s and ’90s.
The subway attack highlighted the vulnerability of the metropolis to terrorists who managed to produce a powerful weapon of mass destruction — and actually use it. It also damaged Tokyo’s reputation as one of the safest world capitals.
Before the police finally raided Aum’s various installations and arrested key cultists in 1995, some of the more vocal members, particularly spokesman Fumihiro Joyu, appeared almost daily on TV news shows to defend the group and its beliefs.
Many key disciples of Asahara had graduated from top universities, prompting the nation to engage in soul-searching over problems in the educational system.
To date, no condemned cultist has gone to the gallows.
Endo’s counsel can file for a correction of the ruling, a procedure that can be undertaken within a 10-day window beginning the day after the ruling is issued. If that filing is dismissed, Endo’s death sentence will be finalized. No ruling has ever been overturned through such a procedure.
“Every one of his criminal acts was meant to protect the cult, and its cruel and inhuman acts were unparalleled,” presiding Justice Seishi Kanetsuki of the Supreme Court’s No. 1 Petty Bench said.
“The defendant’s responsibility for being involved in the killings of 19 people by misusing his scientific knowledge was very heavy, and the death sentence therefore cannot be avoided.”
Asahara was sentenced to death by the Tokyo District Court in February 2004, and the ruling is final. The guru gave little of what could be considered coherent testimony in court about what motivated him to mastermind the crimes.
Lawyers for Endo have argued that he did not execute the attacks or lead them and that he was brainwashed by Asahara and not allowed to harbor doubts about the guru’s orders.
Endo, who became a member in 1987 while still a graduate student at prestigious Kyoto University, was sentenced to hang by the Tokyo District Court in October 2002 for being involved in the killings of 19 people in attacks perpetrated by the cult. The Tokyo High Court upheld the sentence in May 2007.
The March 20, 1995, Tokyo sarin attack killed 13 people and left thousands wounded, while the June 27, 1994, gassing launched from a parking lot near housing for judges in Matsumoto killed eight.
Cultists also killed anti-Aum lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, 33, his wife and son in their Yokohama apartment in November 1989.
In addition to Asahara, 188 other cultists stood trial and all were convicted.