Court trials on a series of deadly crimes committed by members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, including the March 1995 sarin gas attack on subway trains in Tokyo, have effectively been wrapped up — nearly 23 years after the police cracked down on the doomsday cult accused of the crimes that killed 29 people and injured more than 6,000 others. Despite the massive amount of time spent in courtrooms and convictions that led to 13 Aum members being put on death row, however, much about the cult's unprecedented crimes remains a mystery — such as the exact motives behind the subway gas attack and how and why the Aum followers, including highly educated youths with promising career prospects, had been drawn to the cult and came to commit the heinous crimes upon the orders of its founder and guru, Shoko Asahara.
The Aum trials exposed the limitations of the nation's criminal justice system. The end of the marathon trial process should provide an opportunity to review whether reforms introduced to the court trial system in an effort to fix problems highlighted by the trials are really sufficient to find answers to the kind of questions raised by the Aum crimes.
A recent decision by the Supreme Court to turn down the appeal by Katsuya Takahashi, who had been sentenced to life on a murder charge in connection with the 1995 subway gassing attack, wrapped up the series of trials of roughly 190 Aum Shinrikyo members indicted for a spate of the cult's crimes, which also included a fatal sarin gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in June 1994 and the 1989 murders of a lawyer campaigning against the cult and his family. Death sentences have been finalized for 13 Aum members, including Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, along with life terms given to five other cultists.