Exactly seven years after the trial began, prosecutors Thursday demanded the death penalty for Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara, accused of masterminding two sarin attacks in the mid-1990s as well as other heinous crimes.
“The crimes he committed, as ringleader in 13 cases that caused the death of as many as 27 people, is too grave to demand anything other than a death sentence,” the prosecutors told the Tokyo District Court.
A few seconds before the prosecution announced it would seek capital punishment, Asahara, apparently expecting it, started to nervously play with his beard. As the trail session closed, one of his defense lawyers appeared to try to console him.
The defense team is expected to present its final arguments in Oct. 30 and Oct. 31; a ruling is expected to be handed down early next year.
In a 285-page argument, parts of which were read out during the day’s session, the prosecutors concluded that in each of the crimes for which Asahara stands accused, acts were conducted only to satisfy his desire for power and that no religious beliefs were involved.
“All the crimes were systematic and premeditated, and inhuman in that such things as deadly gas were used,” the prosecutors said. “But despite the gravity of the crimes, which shook Japan’s safety and public order at its roots, the accused shows no remorse and even blames his disciples.”
The prosecutors went on to say that Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, has a split personality — a brutal side that orders murderous acts and a cowardly side that tries to cover up the crimes.
During the morning session, the prosecutors tried to establish Asahara’s responsibility by citing evidence on how he instructed his followers to commit the crimes and on the cult’s “militarization.”
The prosecutors said Asahara accelerated his criminal activities after Aum failed in its attempt to win seats in a 1990 House of Representatives election.
“The election loss enhanced Asahara’s hatred toward society and led him to plot an Armageddon as revenge, and create an Aum empire after most of the people had died,” the prosecutors said.
The afternoon session dealt mainly with the emotional impact on the victims and their families.
A number of people in the gallery wept silently, as prosecutors described the lives of the 19 people lost in the two sarin attacks — the 1995 gassing of Tokyo’s subway system and the 1994 attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture.
During most of this process, Asahara looked away with his arms crossed.
A total of 27 people were killed and thousands were injured in the 13 cases in which Asahara stands accused. Charges include murder, attempted murder, illegal arrest and imprisonment resulting in death, destruction of corpses, plotting murder and violating the Arms Manufacturing Law.
According to the prosecutors, the Tokyo sarin attack, on March 20, 1995, was committed in an attempt to disrupt an anticipated police investigation into the cult. Twelve people died and 3,794 were injured.
The sarin attack in Matsumoto, on June 27, 1994, targeted a condominium complex where judges deliberating a property dispute involving the cult were residing, according to prosecutors. Seven died and 144 others were injured.
The murders of lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife and 1-year-old son in November 4, 1989, was motivated by Sakamoto’s activities in helping parents trying to retrieve children from the cult and in handling lawsuits against the cult, prosecutors said.
Asahara, was arrested in May 1995 following a massive police raid on the cult’s facilities in the wake of the Tokyo subway attack.
As the trial proceedings moved at a snail’s pace, the prosecutors reduced the number of injured in the indictment for the two sarin attacks from 3,938 to 18 in January 1998. And in October 2000, they dropped four out of 17 charges relating to the production of illegal drugs.
In January 2002, during the 218th session, the prosecution presentations ended. The defense presentations ended on February 28, 2003. Three questioning sessions of the defendant wrapped up on April 10.
Apart from some babbling in court, in which he stated that “he will shoulder all the blame” but also said “he was completely innocent,” Asahara refused to make an official plea over the 253 trial sessions involving 522 witnesses.
Meanwhile, nine of his disciples, who have testified they acted on the guru’s orders, have received death sentences, while six others received life sentences.
All of those sentenced to death and four out of the six that were sentenced to life have appealed their cases.
In a news conference following the day’s trial session, families of the victims of the cult’s attacks said the demand for the death penalty was a matter of course.
“The reason I’m here, and the reason I’m revealing my name and face, is because anyone can be in my place,” said Maki Nakakoshi, 32, who lost her father in the Tokyo gas attack. “Anyone can be a victim of an atrocious crime and suffer the way I did.”