Senior Aum Shinrikyo cultist Tomomasa Nakagawa was sentenced to death Wednesday for his role in the murders of 24 people.

The cases over which Nakagawa was charged include the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway and in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture.

Nakagawa, who was found guilty by the Tokyo District Court of all charges in the 11 criminal cases over which he stood trial, became the 10th person to receive the death penalty in connection with the cult’s crimes.

In handing down the ruling, presiding Judge Yuichi Okada said Nakagawa had conspired with Aum founder Shoko Asahara over the crimes.

The 41-year-old Nakagawa ranks second behind 48-year-old Asahara in terms of the number of charges faced. Asahara has been implicated in 13 criminal cases, with the closing defense arguments in his trial scheduled to take place Thursday and Friday.

Okada said, “The defendant’s criminal responsibility for following the cult founder’s instructions and producing and using sarin is extremely grave.”

While acknowledging that Nakagawa was repentant over his actions and that there was no danger of him committing similar crimes, the judge said there was no choice but to hand down the death penalty.

According to the ruling, Nakagawa conspired with other Aum members, including Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, to kill 24 people in five cases between 1989 and 1995.

Prosecutors had demanded the death penalty for the former doctor, who is a native of the city of Okayama.

“Although (Nakagawa’s) sense of values may have been altered somewhat as the result of the cult’s teachings, his human character itself was not destroyed, and he can be held responsible for his actions,” the judge said.

Regarding the Tokyo subway gassing, which took place March 20, 1995, Okada said Nakagawa’s intent to commit murder was clear “as he took part in important elements (of the crimes) while being aware of the dangers of sarin.”

The judge’s remarks ran counter to the defense’s argument that Nakagawa had been unaware that nerve gas would be used in the subway attack, that he had no criminal intent and that he had simply acted on the orders of his superior.

His lawyers also argued that Nakagawa’s mind was being controlled by Asahara.

“While it is natural that the responsibility of (Asahara) is extremely serious, the responsibility of the defendant, who chose to follow (the cult leader) and abused his medical knowledge, is also grave,” Okada said.

Nakagawa was also found guilty of being involved in an earlier gassing that killed seven in Matsumoto on June 27, 1994. His lawyers said he had only assisted in this case and was not the main culprit.

Nakagawa meanwhile pleaded guilty to murdering Tsutsumi Sakamoto, a lawyer who was helping people with complaints against Aum, along with his wife and infant son on Nov. 4, 1989.

In addition, Nakagawa was found guilty of abducting and detaining 68-year-old Kiyoshi Kariya, head of the secretariat of a notary office in Meguro Ward, Tokyo, on Feb. 28, 1995. Kariya died of heart failure the next day.

He was convicted of murdering fellow cult member Kotaro Ochida, 29, in Yamanashi Prefecture on Jan. 30, 1994, and company employee Tadahito Hamaguchi, 28, whom Aum suspected of spying.

Nakagawa was found guilty of using VX nerve gas to kill Hamaguchi in Osaka on Dec. 12, 1994.

He was found guilty of several attempted murders using cyanide fumes, VX gas, sarin gas and a letter bomb.

“The subway incident can in no way be condoned, and it is natural for a person who was involved in it to deserve capital punishment,” Okada said in explaining why he had decided to hand down the death penalty.

The judge also noted that, in the case of the murder of the Sakamotos, Nakagawa had personally killed their 1-year-old son, while in the Matsumoto sarin attack he had placed the deadly gas into the fumigator that dispersed it around the area.

Nakagawa’s lawyers voiced regret over the ruling at a news conference, stating that the death sentence should have been avoided in this case.

“Nakagawa said that he had mystical experiences like seeing (flashes of) light even before joining the cult full time,” said lawyer Sadato Goto. “I wonder whether he really had the ability to judge right from wrong like a normal person.”

He added that while the defense team intends to appeal the ruling, they will first consult with their client on the matter.

Meanwhile, Sakamoto’s mother, Sachiyo, said the ruling had been expected, and that she accepted it calmly.

“(Nakagawa) was a doctor who should have respected human life, while my son chose to become a lawyer to protect the weak,” she said. “Why did these two end up becoming murderer and victim?”

Nakagawa joined the cult while he was a medical student at the Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine, from which he graduated in 1988.

The following year, while working as an intern at an Osaka hospital, he decided to quit and become a live-in member of the cult.

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