The Tokyo District Court handed former Aum Shinrikyo member Katsuya Takahashi life in prison on Thursday for his role in the doomsday cult’s 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 13 people and sickened thousands.
Takahashi, 57, was also accused of involvement in three other attacks orchestrated by Aum during its heyday in the early 1990s.
Each crime he was involved in was “egregious and extremely inconsiderate of the importance of human lives,” presiding Judge Tomomi Nakazato said.
The defendant participated in these events to “realize his own religious goal of achieving enlightenment as is recommended by guru Shoko Asahara” (whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto) and “to secure himself a place in the cult,” Nakazato said. As a result of those motivations, it is hard to see Takahashi as the victim of any extenuating circumstances, Nakazato said.
The 1995 sarin attack was perpetrated by Asahara’s disciples in what the guru had described to them as a “holy” attempt to spare mankind the planet’s impending destruction.
During the past four months of his trial, Takahashi had shown little sign of repentance and the court “could not find in his attitude the slightest hope that he might be able to rehabilitate,” the ruling said, apparently acknowledging past claims by prosecutors that he still remained loyal to Asahara.
Takahashi was arrested in June 2012 after 17 years on the run. His months-long trial, which started in January, marked the first time the subway attack had come under the scrutiny of the lay judge system, which debuted in 2009.
The charges against Takahashi included murder, attempted murder, kidnapping and solitary confinement resulting in death. Other charges included the destruction of corpses and violating the explosives control law. Takahashi pleaded not guilty to almost all of the charges, mainly citing a lack of advanced knowledge about the crime.
While admitting to being the driver for a senior cultist who released the deadly nerve gas on one of the subway trains, he argued that he was innocent of indiscriminate killing, saying he had not known his fellow cultists were going to release the gas.
The ruling partly acknowledged Takahashi’s argument, saying no testimony given by former Aum cultists who appeared as witnesses during his trial was trustworthy enough to “establish that the defendant had absolutely been aware the cultists were going to release sarin.”
But noting the defendant scrambled to open the windows on his vehicle when the senior cultist returned from releasing sarin, the ruling pointed out that Takahashi at least had some knowledge that the gas was “something toxic and volatile enough to require ventilation.”
“Thus it is reasonable to determine that the defendant knew in advance that he was going to participate in an extremely dangerous act in which a person might die,” the ruling said, adding his “dutiful” obedience to his assigned duties suggested he had performed a fairly “active” role in the coordinated terrorist attack.
Aside from the subway attack, Takahashi was also involved in the 1995 kidnapping and fatal drugging of Tokyo notary Kiyoshi Kariya and the purported parcel bomb attack of then Tokyo Gov. Yukio Aoshima. Despite his denials, Thursday’s ruling found that Takahashi was guilty of willful complicity in both attacks.
After the ruling, family members of Aum victims expressed disappointment that Takahashi’s trial ended without him ever apologizing to them.
At the same time, Shizue Takahashi, who was widowed by the subway attack, told reporters the life sentence was “exactly what I wanted” for the defendant.
“I believe the ruling showed the united understanding among the lay judges that what the cult did was unforgivable,” Takahashi said, adding she was also satisfied that the court had taken into consideration the angst felt by her and the kin of other victims during the 17 years that Takahashi was on the run.