National

High court upholds death sentence for two culprits in subway gassing

The Tokyo High Court on Wednesday upheld the death sentences meted out to two Aum Shinrikyo figures over their roles in the 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system.

The court also upheld the life imprisonment term given to another cultist over his role in the nerve-gas attack.

In July 2000, the Tokyo District Court sentenced Toru Toyoda, 36, and Kenichi Hirose, 40, to death after convicting them of murder and other charges. Shigeo Sugimoto, 45, a getaway driver during the attack, was given life imprisonment.

In upholding these sentences Wednesday, presiding Judge Shogo Takahashi said that even if the deep remorse expressed by Toyoda and Hirose is taken into account, they cannot escape the gallows.

Lawyers for the pair immediately filed an appeal with the Supreme Court.

Aum’s heinous crimes have resulted in 12 cultists being sentenced to hang, including Toyoda, Hirose and guru Shoko Asahara, 49. All are now appealing.

Of the 12, eight have brought their cases to the Supreme Court, including Yoshihiro Inoue, 34, whose district court-imposed life prison term was changed to capital punishment by the high court on appeal.

According to the district court, they and Sugimoto conspired with Asahara in the subway gassing, which was carried out by a five-member Aum squad that included Toyoda and Hirose.

During the morning rush hour of March 20, 1995, Toyoda boarded a Hibiya Line train and Hirose a Marunouchi Line train, with both releasing liquid sarin, the court said. Sugimoto served as a driver for Yasuo Hayashi, 46, another member of the squad who was also sentenced to hang and is now among those whose appeal is before the Supreme Court.

From the onset, the three owned up to the charges and offered apologies. The district court in its ruling on July 17, 2000, meted out harsh punishment, calling the trio’s actions vicious and inhuman.

During the high court appeal, defense lawyers for Hirose and Toyoda called for leniency, saying the two had been subject to mind control under Asahara and thus should not be held criminally liable. They also argued that a life term for Sugimoto was too harsh.

Judge Takahashi said, however, that while the defendants showed hesitation, “in the end they acted of their own will.”

“The three defendants accepted without question the teachings of the cult and the instructions of (Asahara), which even justified murder,” the judge added.

Prosecutors had sought the death penalty for Toyoda and Hirose and a life sentence for Sugimoto.

Lawyers for Toyoda and Hirose voiced dissatisfaction with the judgment, saying it was odd for the court to recognize that the defendants were under mind control but at the same time state that they acted of their own free will.

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