A former Aum Shinrikyo follower sentenced to death in October 1998 told an appeals court Thursday that he deserved leniency because his confessions led to the breakthrough in the investigation of the 1989 disappearance of a Yokohama lawyer and his family.

Kazuaki Okazaki, 39, was sentenced to hang for his role in the 1989 slaying of anti-Aum lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, 33, the attorney’s wife, Satoko, 29, and their 1-year-old son, Tatsuhiko, as well as the lynching of a fellow cultist the same year.

At the first hearing of his appeal before the Tokyo High Court, Okazaki’s counsel claimed that at the time the crimes were committed, the defendant had been under the mind control of cult leader Shoko Asahara.

The lower court convicted Okazaki of conspiring with six other cultists, including Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, and the cult’s late science chief, Hideo Murai, to kill the Sakamotos.

Sakamoto had been helping parents who were trying to retrieve their children from the cult at the time he and his family were taken from their Yokohama condominium late one night in 1989. Police found their bodies in 1995 in mountains in Toyama, Niigata and Nagano prefectures, based upon Okazaki’s confession.

The lower court also found Okazaki guilty of taking part in the lynching of errant cultist Shuji Taguchi in 1989 at the cult’s headquarters in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka Prefecture.

The lower court deemed Okazaki’s 1995 confession a surrender because he had owned up to investigators voluntarily before they drew up a comprehensive picture of what had happened to the Sakamoto family.

However, the court dismissed the lawyer’s claim that Okazaki should be granted leniency for the confession, saying it was partly motivated by his desire to protect himself from the cult. Okazaki had defected from Aum after the slayings and had allegedly tried to blackmail the cult.

In addition, the lower court noted that even after Okazaki started confessing in April 1995, for several months he left out the fact that he strangled the lawyer himself.