The Tokyo District Court sentenced Koichi Kitamura, 31, an Aum Supreme Truth cult follower, to life in prison Friday in connection with his role of driving followers who were involved in the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in March 1995 in which 12 people died.
Presiding Judge Kiyoshi Kimura said: "It was an unprecedented crime not only in the nation's history, but also in the world. He faithfully played his role as a driver."
The ruling was in line with prosecutors' sentencing requests. Kitamura was the first Aum follower to be given a sentence for driving perpetrators of the gas attack. Fourteen people were indicted on charges of murder, including Aum leader Chizuo Matsumoto, also known as Shoko Asahara. Three of them, including Kitamura, have received sentences.
In the ruling, Kimura said that the crime was ordered by Matsumoto, but was committed by Kitamura and other defendants who had conspired to release the deadly sarin gas.
Kimura said that Kitamura participated in the crime knowing that sarin was a deadly poison and he clearly intended to kill others.
"The role he played as a driver was essential to the crime," he said, but added that Kitamura was not sentenced to death because, "he was in a position to obey Matsumoto and others following Matsumoto's commands. "Compared with the accused who released sarin gas, it cannot be denied that his role was different," Kimura said.
The two Aum followers who were found guilty of releasing the sarin gas were sentenced at the same district court.
Ikuo Hayashi, 52, was sentenced to life in prison in May last year in line with prosecutors' requests after they said that he had voluntarily given information about the crime. His sentence has been finalized.
Masato Yokoyama, 36, was sentenced in September to death for releasing sarin in the subway system, in line with prosecutors requests. He is appealing his sentence.
According to the ruling, Kitamura served as a driver for Kenichi Hirose, 35, who released sarin gas on a Marunouchi Line train on March 20, 1995, resulting in the death of a passenger.
Kitamura faced charges of murder and attempted murder. He also faced charges of harboring a criminal--a cult member, who was wanted by police in connection with the abduction of Kiyoshi Kariya.
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