Senior Aum Shinrikyo follower Yasuo Hayashi was sentenced to death Thursday for releasing nerve gas on a Tokyo subway train in March 1995 and for his role in the deadly June 1994 sarin attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture.

The Tokyo District Court found Hayashi, 42, a key member of the cult’s science team, guilty of releasing the gas on a train on the Hibiya Line — one of the three lines that were attacked — and killing eight people. Twelve people were killed and more than 5,400 injured in the incident.

The court also said Hayashi took part in the cult’s sarin attack in Matsumoto that killed seven and injured hundreds, and in the foiled May 1995 cyanide attack at Shinjuku Station in Tokyo.

Presiding Judge Kiyoshi Kimura said Hayashi deserves to die because his crimes inflicted “incredible” pain and agony upon the victims and their next of kin and posed a serious threat to society.

“Even though the defendant has been cooperative and repentant since his arrest, the role he played in the crimes cannot be forgiven,” Kimura said, supporting the prosecution’s demand for the death penalty.

The judge also rejected Hayashi’s claim that he was afraid of cult leader Shoko Asahara and could not refuse his orders to carry out the attacks out of fear that he would be killed.

Pointing out that Hayashi was a fugitive for 18 months until his arrest in December 1996, the judge also said he maintained a strong faith in Asahara until the very end, countering claims by the defense that he was repentant.

Wearing a gray suit and white shirt, Hayashi sat motionless for three hours as the judge read out the ruling.

Hayashi, who joined Aum in 1987 at the age of 29, helped put together the vehicle used to release sarin in the residential area of Matsumoto on June 27, 1994, the court said.

The attack, aimed to disrupt ongoing litigation filed by local residents against the cult before the Nagano District Court, killed seven residents and injured more than 270 people.

In the subway attack, the objective of which was allegedly to create chaos in the heart of the central government and distract police from carrying out raids on the cult, Hayashi carried three plastic bags containing liquid sarin — more than any of the other cultists — onto a subway car on the morning of March 20.

He then punctured them with the tip of an umbrella several times to spread the lethal gas as the car arrived at Akihabara Station, the court said. In addition to the eight killed, about 2,500 were injured on the train.

The court also said Hayashi and four other Aum members placed bags of cyanide gas in a men’s toilet in an underground concourse at Shinjuku Station on the Marunouchi subway line on May 5, 1995, in a bid to distract police from their investigation into Asahara.

A passerby told station workers about the suspicious-looking bags and they were disposed of without injury.

After 18 months on the run, Hayashi was arrested in December 1996 on Ishigaki Island in Okinawa Prefecture, about 300 km southwest of the main island of Okinawa.

During his trial, Hayashi admitted taking part in the three attacks, but claimed he dared not refuse any order from Asahara.

Hayashi said he began to have doubts around 1990 that Asahara was “the final emancipator” but believed the guru could still lead his training.

However, since Asahara began to punish or kill those who defied his orders, Hayashi became terrified and could not leave the cult, he said.

In addition, Hayashi said he was secretly dating a female follower at the time, an act that was prohibited by Asahara. Hayashi claimed he feared he would be killed if Asahara learned his secret.

The defendant also claimed he was not fully aware of the deadly nature of the sarin and did not think anyone would be killed by the substance. Hayashi also said in court that he did not know sarin was going to be sprayed in Matsumoto.

The court, however, said Hayashi maintained a strong faith in Asahara and spontaneously played key roles in the cult’s crimes.

After his lawyers’ final argument in February, Hayashi said the cult’s crimes were “insane and perverted” and he suffers anguish every time he thinks of them.

Expressing apologies to the victims, Hayashi said at the time that he believed he would be sentenced to death.

After the ruling, Kiyoe Iwata, 61, whose 33-year-old daughter Takako was killed in the subway attack, said the ruling seemed to be fair as she believes that all the cultists who took part in the attack should pay with their lives.

Shizue Takahashi, 53, whose husband Kazumasa, an employee at Kasumigaseki subway station, was killed as he removed the sarin gas from a carriage, said she could not bear listening to the judge say Hayashi has shown regret and was “originally a sincere and diligent person.”

“It was painful for me to hear that statement, as he is the person I can least forgive,” she said.

Hiroshi Araki, a spokesman for the cult, which now calls itself Aleph, also attended Thursday’s court session. He said later that while he respects the ruling, it was regrettable that Hayashi, whom he respected as a person, had received the death penalty.

Thursday’s ruling is the third in which an Aum defendant has received the death penalty.

In 1999, the cult’s chief scientist, Masato Yokoyama, was sentenced to die for his role in the subway attack. Kazuaki Okazaki was sentenced to hang in 1998 in connection with the 1989 abduction and murder of anti-Aum lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family.

Of the 14 cultists accused of taking part in the subway attack, four, including cult doctor Ikuo Hayashi and intelligence chief Yoshihiro Inoue, have been given life terms.

Prosecutors are also seeking the death penalty for Kenichi Hirose and Toru Toyoda in connection with the subway attack. The court is expected to issue a ruling on July 17, when it will also decide the fate of Shigeo Sugimoto, whom prosecutors want sentenced to life for driving one of the attackers to a train station.