The Tokyo District Court sentenced an Aum Shinrikyo figure to life imprisonment Wednesday for his part in four crimes, including a 1994 nerve-gas attack that killed seven people in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture.
Prosecutors had demanded the death penalty for Noboru Nakamura, 34, but presiding Judge Toshio Nagai opted to sentence him to life.
According to the court, Nakamura conspired with cult founder Shoko Asahara, 46, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, and served as a lookout as other Aum members released the sarin on June 27, 1994, targeting a condominium complex where judges hearing an Aum property dispute resided.
The attack killed seven residents of the complex and injured four nearby residents.
Nakamura was also convicted for his role in the 1995 abduction and killing of Tokyo notary public Kiyoshi Kariya, 68, whose sister was trying to leave the cult, and for conspiring to kill Toshio Tomita, a 27-year-old Aum member, in 1994.
Nakamura had admitted serving as a lookout in the 1994 gas attack.
But he denied conspiring with Asahara and denied that he intended to kill anyone, claiming that he did not know sarin was a deadly substance and that other members had released the gas.
Nagai said in handing down the ruling, “Each incident was carried out on orders from Asahara, who was considered an absolute being in the cult, and Nakamura took the incidents as his job at the cult and did not have his own motivation for them.”
He only “subordinately participated” in three incidents, including the Matsumoto sarin attack, the judge said.
The court also said it cannot be proven that Nakamura knew the gas released in Matsumoto was sarin or that he was aware it was deadly. The court added that it is difficult to determine whether Nakamura was able to predict the damage the gas would cause.
It is therefore not clear that capital punishment is imperative, the court said.
Prosecutors had demanded the death penalty, arguing it will be impossible to rehabilitate Nakamura.
They claimed there was a danger that he would commit similar crimes in the future as he still viewed Asahara as the ultimate religious leader and still harbored Aum beliefs that condone murder.
The prosecutors’ remarks came after Nakamura maintained during court hearings that he continued to respect Asahara as Aum’s guru.
Nakamura also repeatedly told judges that Aum members’ crimes arose as a result of “misinterpretations of the guru’s instructions.”
Nakamura also offered his apologies, however, to the victims and their families.
“I want a severe punishment. I wish my death could heal the sorrow of the families and ease the suffering of the victims,” he told the final court hearing in January.
Nakamura’s lawyers said a lighter sentence would be appropriate because he did not play a leading role in any of the incidents.
Cultist Satoru Hashimoto, 34, who drove the van that released the deadly gas, was sentenced to death, while colleague Takashi Tomita, 43, who drove a lookout van, was handed a 17-year prison term. Both have filed appeals.
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