Prosecutors demanded the death penalty Monday for a former Aum Shinrikyo member accused of taking part in the 1989 slaying of a Yokohama lawyer and his family.
Kazuaki Okazaki, 37, on trial before the Tokyo District Court, is the first cult defendant for which prosecutors have sought capital punishment in connection with the spate of crimes Aum’s members stand accused of committing. Okazaki allegedly conspired with six other cult members, including Aum founder Shoko Asahara and the late cult science chief Hideo Murai, to kill anti-Aum lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, 33, the lawyer’s wife, Satoko, 29, and the couple’s 1-year-old son, Tatsuhiko. He also is on trial for taking part in the lynching of errant cultist Shuji Taguchi in 1989.
The Sakamoto slayings are believed to have been perpetrated at the victims’ Yokohama condominium early on Nov. 4, 1989. The trials of five others — Asahara, Kiyohide Hayakawa, Tomomitsu Niimi, Tomomasa Nakagawa and Satoru Hashimoto — are still in progress.
When he disappeared, Sakamoto was assisting parents in trying to retrieve their children from Aum. The family’s remains were found buried in separate locations in forests in Niigata, Toyama and Nagano prefectures in September 1995, based on a confession by Okazaki, who had been caught up in a widening police probe into the cult following the March 1995 Tokyo subway nerve gas attack.
Prosecutors claimed that Asahara ordered Okazaki and the five other cultists to murder the lawyer and his family, because Sakamoto was considered an obstacle to the cult. The perpetrators broke into the Sakamoto condo during the night, strangled the family and later buried their bodies in the mountains, the prosecutors said.
In demanding the death penalty, they termed the killings extremely cruel and said Okazaki had been a willing perpetrator. There is no room for sympathy for Okazaki because he committed the crime to gain greater status in Asahara’s eyes and to acquire a higher position in the cult hierarchy, even at the expense of other people’s lives, they said. His sentencing is expected in the fall.
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