Murder sentence of Japan cult leader's wife cut on appeal

Reuters, Sept. 9, 1999
By Elaine Lies

TOKYO, Sept 9, 1999 - The wife of the doomsday cult leader accused of masterminding the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system had her conviction upheld on Thursday but received a one-year reduction in her prison term.

The Tokyo High Court upheld last year's district court conviction of Tomoko Matsumoto, 41, wife of Aum Shinri Kyo (Supreme Truth) guru Shoko Asahara, for conspiring with her husband and other cult members to kill cult member Kotaro Ochida when he tried to leave the cult.

But presiding judge Tadaharu Kanda reduced Matsumoto's sentence from seven to six years, saying the longer sentence was "too severe."

Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, is facing a total of 17 charges for masterminding the Tokyo subway gas attack which killed 12 people and made 6,000 ill.

"It is clear that you took part in a conspiracy and Ochida's actual killing,"Kanda told Matsumoto.

But the judge also noted Matsumoto had paid some 20 million yen (US$183,300) in damages to Ochida's family, and had also contributed to a fund for victims of the Tokyo subway attack.

Japanese courts are often lenient if someone accused of a crime shows remorse.

Cult members have said Ochida, 29, was strangled on Asahara's orders in the presence of Matsumoto and other cult members on February 1, 1994, at cult headquarters near Mount Fuji.

During her previous trial, Matsumoto admitted to being present at the crime but denied conspiring with other cult members to kill Ochida.

Matsumoto said she was in the room when Ochida was strangled and felt "unbearable shame,"but could not resist because she was suffering at the time from a breakdown in her relationship with Asahara due to his sexual liaisons with other women and physical abuse.

During her first trial, defence lawyers portrayed Matsumoto as a gullible teenager who fell in love with the older Asahara out of pity due to his poor eyesight.

They married in January 1978, when she was only 18. The first of their six children arrived six months later.

The Japanese government is considering submitting a bill to the next session of parliament that would restrict the activities of Aum and similar groups.

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