Aum Shinrikyo members executed on July 6
Kiyohide Hayakawa, one of the earliest and closest disciples of Aum Shinrikyo guru Shoko Asahara, had his death sentence finalized by the Supreme Court in 2009 for playing a key role in the murders of an anti-cult lawyer, the lawyer’s family and another member who wanted to leave the cult.
Hayakawa, 68, who joined Aum in 1986, was convicted of storming into the apartment of the lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, 33, in the early hours of Nov. 4, 1989, and taking part in the murder of Sakamoto, his wife, Satoko, 29, and their 1-year-old son, Tatsuhiko.
Hayakawa was found guilty of seven charges, which also included helping Aum produce sarin nerve gas and LSD.
In the 1989 slaying of young cultist Shuji Taguchi, who tried to flee the group, Hayakawa and three other cultists choked him with a rope and strangled him, an act that he called Aum’s first case of “mercy killing.”
The four killed Taguchi on Asahara’s orders because he had seen another cultist murdered and Aum feared he might make the incident public if he fled, the court said.
During his trial, Hayakawa expressed remorse for the victims, saying he is “unpardonable as a human being.”
However, he also claimed he could not defy Asahara’s orders to kill the Sakamotos and Taguchi because he believed them to be “absolute.”
He was sentenced to death by the Tokyo District Court in 2000, a decision that was upheld by the Tokyo High Court in 2004.
In a book co-published with a religious scholar in 2005 during his appeals process, Hayakawa recalled how he joined Aum to practice yoga and meditation yet came to condone killings as he rose through the ranks in the cult.
“People are defenseless against an ‘authority’ that they themselves have found, as opposed to someone they were forced to believe in,” he wrote. “They can easily commit murders in the face of ‘justice’ presented by such an ‘authority.’ ”
He added: “At that time, I had completely believed that the guru Asahara was a Buddha, and believed the dogma that ‘poa’ (a cult word for killing) was to save the person, and thought that, if I had hesitation in my mind, it was because of the lack of my training.”
Yoshihiro Inoue, 48, the cult’s former intelligence chief and one of the top aides to Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara, was sentenced to death in 2009 at the Tokyo High Court over his role in the nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system and nine other crimes. The ruling was finalized in 2010.
He was the ninth Aum member to receive a death sentence. The Tokyo District Court first handed down a life prison term on the grounds that Inoue did not take part in the act of releasing the deadly nerve gas on the subway and only provided backup support, but the high court reversed the ruling in May 2004 and the Supreme Court supported it by saying Inoue was a key coordinator in organizing the sarin gas attack.
Inoue was accused of having conspired with Asahara, senior cult member Seiichi Endo and the cult’s late science chief, Hideo Murai, to release sarin aboard subway trains with the aim of distracting police, as investigators were about to raid the cult’s facilities.
Inoue claimed that he merely followed Asahara’s orders and was unable to resist them as he had been brainwashed by Asahara.
Inoue’s sentence covered all 10 charges he faced, including the lynching of Aum follower Kotaro Ochida in 1994, the VX gas murder of Tadahito Hamaguchi, whom Inoue thought was a spy for the Public Security Investigation Agency, and the attempted murders of Noboru Mizuno in December 1994 and anti-Aum activist Hiroyuki Nagaoka in January 1995.
Inoue was also convicted of directing the operation of the kidnapping and confinement of Tokyo notary public Kiyoshi Kariya in 1995.
Inoue joined the cult at the age of 16 and was considered to be Asahara’s closest disciple. A few months after he was arrested in 1995, he left Aum and sought guidance from Buddhism.
In court testimony in 1997, Inoue claimed that Asahara’s final objective was “to control the world by dispersing sarin in Japan and the United States, murdering the Emperor and winning over Russia with bribes.”
Tomomitsu Niimi, 54, played active roles in 11 crimes committed by the Aum Shinrikyo cult, including seven cases of murder, two attempted murders and two deadly sarin attacks. His death sentence for his role in 26 murders, as well as other crimes committed by the cult, was finalized in 2010.
Niimi was known to be one of Aum guru Shoko Asahara’s closest aides and had been dubbed Aum Shinrikyo’s home affairs minister. He played direct roles in all seven murder plots committed by the doomsday cult, with the exception of the subway sarin attack, for which he served as a chauffeur.
Niimi was the only Aum member who has been indicted in all seven murder cases along with Asahara, the alleged mastermind behind the crimes.
His involvement in Aum’s crimes began with the murder of Shuji Taguchi, an ex-Aum follower who tried to flee the cult in 1989. Niimi strangled Taguchi to death.
Later that year, Niimi was also involved in murders of Tsutsumi Sakamoto, a lawyer who had been helping followers flee the cult, Sakamoto’s wife, Satoko, and his 1-year-old son, Tatsuhiko.
In the subway attack, which killed 13 and injured more than 6,000, Niimi played a conspiratorial role and served as a driver for other cultists who released the deadly nerve gas on the trains.
Throughout his trial, Niimi maintained that he was still loyal to Asahara and that his belief in Asahara’s teachings remained intact. His lawyers claimed he should not be handed the death sentence as he was only carrying out orders from Asahara.
Niimi confessed to all the crimes for which he stood accused, other than the subway attack, but refused to apologize.
Niimi, a native of Aichi Prefecture, joined Aum’s predecessor body in 1986.
A central figure in the Aum Shinrikyo cult as a chemistry expert, Masami Tsuchiya, 53, was sentenced to death in 2004 for his role in the production of sarin that was used in deadly gas attacks in Nagano Prefecture and on the Tokyo subway system. His sentence was finalized in 2011.
Although Tsuchiya was not directly involved in the carrying out of the attacks, the presiding judge of Tsuchiya’s 2004 trial at the Tokyo District Court said that Tsuchiya deserved to die due to the sheer cruelty of the sarin attacks.
“The defendant, following Asahara’s instructions, made all the chemical weapons used in the attacks. We must say that the cult’s crimes using chemical weapons would not have occurred without the accused. In that sense, he was at the center of the crimes,” Judge Satoru Hattori said.
Tsuchiya was found guilty on six counts: the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin attack, the June 1994 sarin attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, the three VX gas attacks in 1994 and 1995 and production of PCP.
He was originally also charged with illegal production of LSD, but this was dropped after prosecutors in Asahara’s trial nixed charges related to the production of illegal drugs to hasten the trials pertaining to the sarin attacks.
Tsuchiya refrained from showing remorse throughout his trial, describing himself as a “direct disciple of the guru,” and calling Asahara sonshi (honorable master) when called as a witness to Asahara’s trial in 2002.
However, his devotion to Asahara waned over the years, and he ultimately sent a letter to the Asahi Shimbun daily as well as other media outlets detailing his wavering allegiance to Aum Shinrikyo and calling on Asahara to “stop feigning mental illness and speak out about the chain of events” committed by the cult.
Tsuchiya earned his master’s degree in physical and organic chemistry from University of Tsukuba before fully committing to Aum Shinrikyo.
Tomomasa Nakagawa, 55, was a key cult member who helped produce the sarin Aum Shinrikyo used to carry out its multiple attacks. Authorities accused Nakagawa of helping to produce the gas used in the Tokyo subway attack as well as that used in the other large-scale attack on a residential area in Nagano Prefecture, which killed eight people.
Sentenced to death in 2011, he was found guilty of playing a role in the deaths of 25 people. His 11 indictments were second only to Aum founder Shoko Asahara. He was also notably involved in the murder of anti-Aum lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family.
Joining the cult as a young medical student, he eventually went on to quit his job at an Osaka hospital in 1989 to pursue activities with the cult. He first discovered the cult through one of their many publications.
Using his knowledge of sarin gas, Nakagawa also treated Aum members who helped carry out the attacks. In his capacity as a medic, he was also often called on to administer anesthetic to people the cult sought to interrogate.
While on trial, he claimed to have no knowledge that the gas he produced would be used in the attacks. But Nakagawa has since showed remorse for his deeds, writing a personal apology to the victims of his attacks in a 2016 memoir. He expressed further contrition for his involvement in the crimes when he took the witness stand in the trials of other cult members.
While behind bars, Nakagawa has on multiple occasions shared his knowledge of sarin gas with U.S. toxicologist Anthony Tu, an expert who helped Japanese police as they tracked down the perpetrators of the 1995 Tokyo subway attacks.
Seiichi Endo, 58, the former “health and welfare minister” of Aum Shinrikyo, helped produce the sarin gas used in the cult’s attacks. A Hokkaido native, Endo joined the cult in 1987 while studying virology as a graduate student at the prestigious Kyoto University.
Under Endo’s leadership, the cult began production of a variety of biological and chemical weapons, including anthrax, VX and sarin, as early as five years before the 1995 Tokyo attack. Since Endo originally specialized in areas unrelated to chemistry, his efforts to produce chemical weapons often ended in failure. Yet, due to his seniority in the group, he managed to avoid demotion for his setbacks.
Endo was most notably involved in the cult’s large-scale attacks carried out on the Tokyo subway system and a residential area in Nagano Prefecture. He was accused of involvement in five cases, including a May 1994 sarin attack against Taro Takimoto, a lawyer who was helping Aum members who wanted to escape from the cult.
Despite the fact that Endo admitted to producing the gas used in the subway attacks during his trial, he tried to deflect responsibility for the attacks stating, “I was shocked when I heard that people died from the attack.”
However, prosecutors disputed this claim based on the fact that he provided preventive medicine to members of the cult who were tasked with carrying out the attack on the subway.
His lawyers further argued that Endo did not lead any of the attacks and that his involvement was often due to the fact that he was brainwashed by Shoko Asahara, Aum’s leader.
Originally sentenced to death in 2002, Endo would go on to unsuccessfully appeal the court’s decision after the Supreme Court ruled against him in 2011.
Cult members remaining on death row
Toru Toyoda, 50, was among the five Aum Shinrikyo cult members who released sarin gas during the 1995 Tokyo subway attack.
With a master’s degree in physics from the University of Tokyo, Toyoda became a live-in follower of Aum in 1992 and was a key figure on its science team. He was one of the most highly educated Aum members.
Using the tip of an umbrella, Toyoda punctured two plastic bags containing chemical agents aboard a Hibiya Line train shortly before it approached Ebisu Station during the morning rush hour on March 20, 1995.
Toyoda was arrested about two months after the deadly attack and sentenced to death in July 2000. Rejecting his appeal, the Supreme Court finalized the sentence in 2009.
Toyoda was also involved in other cases, including being found guilty of the attempted murder of former Tokyo Gov. Yukio Aoshima in May 1995. Conspiring with other Aum members, he sent the governor a parcel bomb, which went off and seriously injured the metropolitan government official who opened it.
That same month, Toyoda conspired with other Aum members to set up a machine to produce a cloud of cyanide fumes in a bathroom of a subway station in Shinjuku. He was convicted of attempted murder.
Toyoda was also in charge of a research center the doomsday cult set up in Australia.
Toyoda pleaded guilty and apologized in court to relatives of the victims of the 1995 subway attack. His attorneys argued the death sentence was too severe and that he was acting on the orders of Aum leader Shoko Asahara.
The court ruled, however, that the 1995 attack was an “unprecedented mass murder that ignored human dignity” and said that Toyoda deserved the death penalty.
Kenichi Hirose, 54, a former senior member of Aum Shinrikyo, was sentenced to death by the Tokyo District Court on July 17, 2000, for his roles in the 1995 nerve gas attack in the Tokyo subway system and production of automatic rifles for the doomsday cult.
He was among the five Aum members who released deadly sarin gas in subway cars, which left 13 people dead and injured more than 6,000. His death sentence was finalized in December 2009.
Hirose pleaded guilty and apologized in court to relatives of the victims. But he asked that he not be sentenced to hang, saying that it would be “unreasonable” for him to receive the same punishment that Aum guru Shoko Asahara was expected to receive.
Hirose, who joined the cult in 1988, pierced two plastic bags containing sarin abroad a Marunouchi Line train near Ochanomizu Station, which left one passenger dead and about 350 others abroad the train injured.
Hirose was acting on the orders of Asahara when he and the others carried out the attack, which was intended as a diversion to distract police from what appeared to be imminent raids on the cult’s facilities.
He was one of the primary members of Aum’s science team and played a key role in a project to manufacture 1,000 automatic riles between June 1994 and March 1995.
Hirose had produced a prototype assault rifle based on the AK-74 by January 1995, the court said. He claimed Asahara ordered him to produce 1,000 rifles. Prior to giving the order, Asakara sent Hirose and four other cult members to Russia in February 1993 to study how to make the Russian Army’s AK-74 as well as to purchase parts for the weapons.
Hirose acquired a master’s degree in physics at Waseda University.
Yasuo Hayashi, 60, who was a senior Aum Shinrikyo member, is on death row after being convicted of playing a leading role in a series of crimes committed by the cult group.
On the day of the deadly subway attack, Hayashi, whose current surname is Koike, carried three bags of liquid sarin — more than any other member — and pierced them with the tip of his umbrella on a Hibiya Line train near Akihabara Station.
He got off at the station and left the liquid to run over the floor of the car, killing eight people.
The cultist was also found guilty of being involved in another sarin gas attack in a residential area of Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in June 1994, which left eight people dead. He helped put together the vehicle that was used to disperse sarin in the city near an official residence for judges and court officials.
He was also convicted for aiding a failed attempt in May 1995 to release cyanide gas in a men’s toilet at Shinjuku Station in Tokyo, to distract police from their investigation into Aum founder Shoko Asahara.
Hayashi was on the run for 18 months and was arrested in December 1996 on remote Ishigaki Island in Okinawa Prefecture.
Tabloids dubbed him “the killing machine” for his commitment to Aum, although Hayashi had claimed he wanted to leave the cult.
Hayashi, who studied artificial intelligence at Kogakuin University, became a follower of Asahara in 1987.
During his trial, Hayashi admitted taking part in the three attacks and apologized to the victims, but claimed he had carried out the attacks ordered by Asahara out of fear he would be killed.
The Tokyo District Court sentenced him to death in 2000. Rejecting his appeal, the Supreme Court finalized the sentence in 2008.
Masato Yokoyama, 55, a former deputy chief of Aum Shinrikyo’s so-called science and technology unit, was sentenced to death by the Tokyo District Court in September 1999 for playing a direct role in the deadly 1995 sarin nerve gas attack in the Tokyo subway system, which killed 13 people and injured thousands of other passengers.
His death sentence was finalized in July 2007. Among the five cultists who released the nerve gas on subway trains, Yokoyama was the first to have had a death sentence finalized.
Yokoyama boarded a morning rush-hour Marunouchi Line train at Shinjuku Station on March 20, 1995, and using an umbrella, he pierced one of two plastic bags containing the deadly agent as the train neared Yotsuya Station. Although it did not lead to any deaths, the gas he released severely injured four people.
During his first trial, in December 1996, Yokoyama denied intent to murder, claiming he did not know that sarin gas could kill people. But throughout his trials, Yokoyama remained mostly silent. He reportedly declined to issue a written apology — a move his defense attorneys had advised — claiming he did not want to speak up.
He also played a role in a plan to manufacture around 1,000 firearms between 1994 and 1995 under the orders of Aum founder Shoko Asahara. After numerous attempts, he managed to build one prototype machine gun.
Yokoyama joined the cult in 1988, just a week after he was deeply moved by a book penned by Asahara.
A graduate of Tokai University’s applied engineering department, Yokoyama at that time was an employee of an electronics firm in Gunma Prefecture. He later quit the company to fully devote himself to the doomsday cult.
Satoru Hashimoto, 51, a former senior Aum Shinrikyo cultist, was sentenced to death for playing active roles in two separate murder cases: the November 1989 murders of anti-Aum lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family, and the sarin nerve gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in June 1994.
Hashimoto was convicted of conspiring with six other cultists, including cult guru Shoko Asahara, to murder the lawyer, 33, his wife, Satoko, 29, and their 1-year-old son, Tatsuhiko.
The cultists broke into the family’s home in Yokohama and murdered them while they slept. During the attack, Hashimoto, who was a karate practitioner and former bodyguard of Asahara, struck the lawyer several times and also kicked his wife in the stomach while other cultists strangled her.
Their bodies were found in 1995 in separate locations in mountainous areas of Toyama, Niigata and Nagano prefectures.
His death sentence, first handed down by the Tokyo District Court in July 2000, was finalized by the Supreme Court in October 2007.
In the Matsumoto sarin attack, which killed eight people and injured hundreds of local residents, Hashimoto drove five cultists to the site to release the deadly nerve agent in a bid to test its effectiveness and to disrupt ongoing litigation against Aum.
Hashimoto also took part in the construction of a sarin production plant at the cult’s Kamikuishiki complex in Yamanashi Prefecture between 1993 and 1994.
Hashimoto joined the doomsday cult in 1988 at age 21. Back then he was a third-year student at Waseda University in Tokyo, but he quit school to become a full-time devotee of the cult and to live in the isolated community.
It was his karate skills that caught Asahara’s attention, which eventually led him to join the team to kill the Sakamoto family just 10 months after he became a full-time devotee.
Kazuaki Okazaki was convicted for his role in the 1989 murders of Yokohama lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife and infant son, as well as the killing in the same year of a cultist who tried to defect.
The Tokyo District Court sentenced him to death in October 1998. In 2005, he became the first of 13 former members of the cult to have his death sentence finalized. His trial was the shortest of the group because he pleaded guilty on all counts.
Okazaki, 57, fled the cult in 1990 immediately after the Sakamoto slayings, taking around ¥300 million of the cult’s money with him. In 1995 he turned himself in, after Aum Shinrikyo’s sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system.
After his departure from the cult and before his 1995 surrender, Okazaki ran a cram school in Yamaguchi Prefecture. He blackmailed the cult’s founder, Shoko Asahara, by threatening to tell police about the cult’s crimes, demanding that Asahara pay ¥10 million. He received ¥8.3 million.
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 to his role in the killings.
The Supreme 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 ruling contrasts with that of Ikuo Hayashi, who also turned himself in and received a sentence of life imprisonment for his involvement in the 1995 sarin attack.
Okazaki was found guilty of participating in the November 1989 murders of Sakamoto, 33, his wife Satoko, 29, and their 1-year-old son Tatsuhiko. Sakamoto had been helping parents of Aum members who were trying to persuade their offspring to leave the cult.
He was also convicted for his role in the February 1989 slaying of Aum member Shuji Taguchi, 21, who was trying to leave the cult.
Okazaki had sought leniency, highlighting that he surrendered of his own accord 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.