The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the death sentence for a former senior Aum Shinrikyo figure for his role in the 1989 murders of a Yokohama lawyer, the attorney’s wife and infant son, and a cultist trying to defect.
Kazuaki Okazaki, 44, is the first of 13 Aum defendants sentenced to death by district or high courts to have their sentence finalized.
A major point of contention in Okazaki’s case had been the fact that he had turned himself in would mitigate his sentence.
The Penal Code allows for a sentence to be commuted if a defendant turns himself in.
“It was a cruel and brutal crime committed only to maintain the organization of the cult,” said Justice Niro Shimada, head of the No. 1 Petty Bench. “The defendant bears a great responsibility for the crime, although he turned himself in.”
Okazaki was found guilty of participating in the murders of lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, 33, his wife, Satoko, 29, and their 1-year-old son Tatsuhiko, in November 1989. Sakamoto at that time was helping parents of Aum members who were trying to get their offspring to leave the cult.
He was also convicted for his role in the slaying of Aum member Shuji Taguchi, 21, in February 1989 when the victim tried to leave the cult.
His trial was the shortest of the 13 because he pleaded guilty to all counts. The Tokyo District Court sentenced him to death in October 1998.
Okazaki had asked for leniency, saying he surrendered himself and was the first among the perpetrators of the Sakamoto family murders to confess to the crime. Police found the Sakamoto corpses buried in a mountainous area, based on Okazaki’s 1995 confession.
The court acknowledged that Okazaki surrendered to police and contributed a great deal to solving the cult’s crimes. But it said he must still hang for his crimes due to their gravity and because he surrendered only for “self-protection.”
The Tokyo High Court upheld the sentence in December 2001.
Okazaki was a senior member of the cult founded by 50-year-old Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto.
Okazaki fled the cult in 1990 immediately after the Sakamoto slayings and turned himself in 1995 after Aum’s sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system.
After his departure from the cult and before his 1995 surrender, Okazaki was running a cram school in Yamaguchi Prefecture. He reportedly blackmailed Asahara into paying him millions of yen by threatening to tell police about the cult’s crimes.
During the period, Okazaki was questioned by Kanagawa Prefectural Police but denied being involved in the Sakamoto family’s disappearance. It was only after his 1995 arrest that he admitted he took part in killing them.
Asahara was sentenced to death in February 2004 after being found guilty on 13 counts, including masterminding the fatal 1995 sarin attack, the Sakamoto murders and a deadly 1994 sarin attack in Nagano Prefecture.
Of the 13 death-row inmates, eight have appealed to the Supreme Court and the other five are still making appeals in the high courts.
Thursday’s top court decision contrasts with an earlier district court ruling on Aum’s doctor, Ikuo Hayashi, who was convicted of spraying sarin on a subway train in 1995. Hayashi received a life term. The court considered the fact that he turned himself in and cooperated with the investigation into Aum’s crimes.
Aum Shinrikyo renamed itself Aleph in January 2000.
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