Upholding a lower court ruling, the Tokyo High Court found a former gang member innocent Monday of ordering the 1995 murder of Hideo Murai, a key figure in Aum Shinrikyo.

The court dismissed prosecutors’ charges that Kenji Kamimine, 51, a former leader of the Mie Prefecture-based Hane-gumi, ordered syndicate member Hiroyuki Jo to kill Murai.

Murai, 36, was stabbed in the stomach on April 23, 1995, in front of a crowd of reporters outside Aum’s Tokyo headquarters in the Minami-Aoyama district. The attack came just over a month after the March 20, 1995, sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, for which Aum was being probed as the perpetrator.

Murai was in charge of designing the cult’s chemical compound in Kamikuishiki, Yamanashi Prefecture, and investigators believed he held the key as to how the cult came to produce the gas.

“(Murai) held the key,” Judge Niro Shimada said in his ruling, “and he was stabbed just when suspicion against the cult was increasing. Yet prosecutors failed to substantiate a motive for the murder. “Other figures existed who wanted (Murai) dead,” Shimada said. “Seen in this light, the first ruling was correct in judging Jo’s testimony to be unreliable.”

Jo, who is serving a 12-year sentence for the murder, had testified that Kamimine told him to kill one of three Aum leaders, saying, “Someone important has high hopes for you.” Prosecutors had demanded a 15-year sentence for both Jo and Kamimine.

But both the district and high courts found Jo’s testimony that any Aum leader was said to make an appropriate target “unnatural.”

The court further found discrepancies among witnesses’ testimony concerning when Kamimine supposedly ordered the murder.

Prosecutors alleged that Kamimine wrote out the instructions on paper, then delivered it to Jo in a restaurant, after which he burned it an ashtray and extinguished the flame with a drink.

A restaurant employee testified to seeing dirty water in an ashtray, but Judge Shimada said it was unreliable because the employee reported seeing the ashtray earlier than the defendant’s arrival at the restaurant.

After being stabbed, Murai was carried to Tokyo Metropolitan Hiroo Hospital, but died shortly later.