The Tokyo High Court on Wednesday upheld a lower court ruling that sentenced a former Aum Shinrikyo fugitive to life in prison for his role in the doomsday cult’s 1995 sarin attacks on the Tokyo subway system that killed 13 people and sickened thousands.
Katsuya Takahashi, 58, was found guilty by the Tokyo District Court in April 2015 of murder and other crimes for his role as a driver for one of the cult members who released the deadly poison on a subway car on March 20, 1995.
Takahashi was also accused of involvement in three other attacks orchestrated by Aum during its heyday in the early 1990s.
During the appeal process, Takahashi’s lawyers claimed that he wasn’t sure what chemical the cultist would release, and that he didn’t expect the incident to lead to casualties.
The lower court said in the original ruling that Takahashi had been warned by a former senior cult member and so was “aware that a volatile poison was to be released and deaths were highly likely.”
It said Takahashi played an “indispensable” role in ensuring a successful attack, though it acknowledged that he was simply following instructions from his superior.
Yoshihiro Inoue, a 46-year-old former senior cult member who was sentenced to death over his role in the gas attacks, testified during Takahashi’s trial in the lower court that he had told him that sarin would be released. Takahashi denied that Inoue had ever told him this.
Takahashi was apprehended in Tokyo in June 2012 after nearly 17 years on the run.
He was the last Aum Shinrikyo member on a special nationwide wanted list.
Cult founder Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, has been sentenced to death for masterminding the subway attacks.
According to the district court ruling, Inoue took part in the attacks to “realize his own religious goal of achieving enlightenment according to the teachings and urging of his guru Shoko Asahara” and “to secure his position in the cult.”
The last three fugitives on the special wanted list were Makoto Hirata, 51, a former senior Aum member, Naoko Kikuchi, 44, and Takahashi.
Hirata turned himself in at a Tokyo police station on Dec. 31, 2011. Kikuchi and Takahashi were subsequently found and arrested the following year.
Hirata was sentenced to nine years in prison for his involvement in an abduction and other crimes. The sentence was finalized earlier this year.
A district court sentenced Kikuchi to five years in prison, but a higher court later overturned the verdict and acquitted her. Prosecutors have appealed the higher court’s decision to the Supreme Court.