The Tokyo District Court sentenced Aum Shinrikyo deserter Kazuaki Okazaki, 38, to death Friday for taking part in the murders of an anti-Aum lawyer and the attorney’s family and the killing of an errant cultist in 1989.Friday’s ruling marks the first time capital punishment has been meted out in connection with the heinous crimes for which members of the cult stand accused, including two deadly nerve gas attacks. Okazaki was also the first of six Aum defendants accused of being involved in the November 1989 slaying of Yokohama lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, 33, his wife, Satoko, 29, and their 1-year-old son, Tatsuhiko.The Sakamoto murders are believed the point where Aum started carrying out a raft of heinous crimes that culminated in the 1995 Tokyo subway nerve gas attack, which claimed 12 lives and injured thousands.Presiding Judge Megumi Yamamuro said the court had no choice but to sentence Okazaki to death, because of the nature of the crime, the social impact of the case, the motive for the killings, the role he had played, and the sentiment of the victims’ families.Standing before the judge in a navy-blue suit and light green shirt, Okazaki showed no outward reaction when he was sentenced to hang. His lawyers said they will decide whether to file an appeal with a higher court after consulting with their client.According to the court, Okazaki conspired with six other cultists, including Aum founder Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, and the cult’s late science chief, Hideo Murai, to kill the Sakamoto family early on Nov. 4, 1989. The lawyer was helping parents trying to retrieve their children from Aum at the time he and his family disappeared from their condominium. Their bodies were found in 1995 in mountainous locations in the prefectures of Toyama, Niigata and Nagano, based upon confessions by Okazaki.The court alleged that Asahara saw Sakamoto as an obstacle to the cult and thus ordered the killing. The six cultists accused of being the direct perpetrators broke into the family’s dwelling as the victims slept and strangled them, the court said. Asahara is still on trial for various offenses and has yet to be convicted.Okazaki also took part in the lynching of errant cultist Shuji Taguchi in 1989 at the cult’s headquarters in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka Prefecture, the court said. During the trial, Okazaki owned up to the charges against him. His was the first case in which prosecutors demanded the death penalty in connection with the crimes members of Aum stand accused of committing.In handing down the penalty, Yamamuro termed the Sakamoto slayings extremely cruel, citing their execution, premeditation and the fact that the crime was systematically carried out. The court said Okazaki played a key role in the murder and was a willing perpetrator.The focus of Okazaki’s trial was whether the court regarded his April 1995 admission regarding his involvement in the Sakamoto killings as tantamount to a voluntary surrender, a possible mitigating factor for leniency as prescribed in the Criminal Code.
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