Prosecutors demanded life in prison Wednesday for a former Aum Shinrikyo fugitive accused of chauffeuring one of the cultists accused of releasing sarin in the deadly Tokyo subway gas attack of March 1995.

In a statement read before the Tokyo District Court, prosecutors said Koichi Kitamura, 31, actively played a part in indiscriminately murdering 12 people and injuring thousands of others in the subway because of his belief in the cult’s self-righteous doctrine, and should thus be sentenced to life imprisonment.

Prosecutors said during Wednesday’s session that because Kitamura’s behavior indicated no signs of regret, there is no reason for leniency. Kitamura sat straight and motionless in his chair, staring straight ahead as the prosecutors made their 3 1/2
-hour statement.

In his opening trial hearing in May 1997 Kitamura admitted he chauffeured Kenichi Hirose, a former senior cultist, to Yotsuya Station in Chiyoda Ward. But he denied conspiring with cult founder Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, saying he did not know that sarin was deadly.

Only one of five cultists originally accused of releasing nerve gas on the subway system — former Aum doctor Ikuo Hayashi — has been convicted thus far. Meanwhile, prosecutors argued that Kitamura, who served as Asahara’s chauffeur and bodyguard, must have known of sarin’s deadliness because the guru frequently mentioned it during his preaching.

Prosecutors allege Kitamura drove Hirose from a hideout in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward to Yotsuya Station on the Marunouchi line on the morning of March 20, 1995. Afterward, Hirose allegedly took the subway train bound for Ogikubo and released the nerve gas from two plastic bags, killing one person and injuring about 350.

Kitamura also aided Takeshi Matsumoto, who was wanted for conspiring in the murder of Tokyo notary public Kiyoshi Kariya, in escaping the police, they said. Kitamura was evading police himself until he was arrested in November 1996 in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture.

Kitamura has either refused to testify or remained silent in court except for a hearing at the end of March, when he suddenly asked the judge for permission to speak. He took the opportunity to say he still believes in the guru. “My resignation (from Aum) is entirely untrue,” Kitamura said in March. “I wrote the resignation paper to commute my sentence. I still have faith in guru Asahara.”

Kitamura’s final hearing is scheduled for July 13.

Coronavirus banner