Death sentence on Aum leader upheld

BBC News/December 13, 2001

A court in Japan has upheld the death sentence against a co-founder of the doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo, for the murder of four people.

Kazuaki Okazaki, 41, was convicted in 1998 for killing an anti-sect lawyer, his wife and baby son, and a cult member who had tried to leave after witnessing an earlier killing.

On Thursday the Tokyo High Court rejected an appeal by Okazaki's lawyers.

The death sentence passed on Okazaki was the first for a member of Aum - the group which in 1995 released deadly Sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway, killing 12 people and injuring thousands of others.

The sect has now renounced violence and renamed itself Aleph.


'Painful memories'

In the appeal, Okazaki's lawyers had argued he was under "mind control" by Aum's main founder, Chizuo Matsumoto - better known by his pseudonym Shoko Asahara - who is still on trial.

The court rejected that argument.

"The defendant believed Matsumoto's doctrine and independently decided to follow his orders," said Judge Yoshimasa Kawabe.

"This was a cruel, brutal crime that crushed under foot the idea of a society based on laws."

In 1989 Okazaki and five other Aum members, on the order of their leader, had entered the Yokohama home of lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, then 33, and killed him, his wife Satoko, 29, and one-year-old son Tatsuhiko.

That same year Okazaki also murdered 21-year-old Shuji Taguchi, who had tried to leave the cult after witnessing an earlier killing.

Okasaki fled from the sect in 1990 with $1.8m (230 million yen).

He confessed to the murders five years later, one month after the Tokyo subway gassing.

The dead lawyer's mother, Sachiyo Sakamoto, 70, said after the verdict that the ruling was just.

"My painful memories of that time have eased, and my desire for the death penalty has lessened," she said. "But the law must by upheld."

Okazaki did not show any reaction when the verdict was read out.

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