"I was convinced that I had no choice but to follow (Matsumoto) for the rest of my life.''
Tomomitsu Niimi Aum Shinrikyo member and convicted killer
Tomomitsu Niimi sat upright in the center of the court room as Judge Yujiro Nakatani delivered the verdict: guilty on 26 counts of murder. And when the judge sentenced Niimi to death, the Aum Shinrikyo cultist responded with a slight nod. His self-perceived role as a tragic martyr was complete.
Although Niimi's former colleagues in the cult blamed Aum founder Chizuo Matsumoto for their crimes, Niimi never once turned against his bearded guru.
He even appeared resolved to hear the death sentence handed down Wednesday at the Tokyo District Court.
But his demeanor changed when the judge sharply criticized the defendant.
Judge Nakatani described Niimi's crimes as "cowardly and selfish'' and chastised him for offering empty excuses instead of showing sincere remorse. Rather than face the judge and his remarks, Niimi turned to the court gallery.
In past trial sessions, Niimi uttered statements that can only be considered challenges to social mores.
He once said the victims of his crimes were an unavoidable sacrifice for the happiness of the greatest number of people. He also said his ideal state of mind was the happiness he felt after killing people on the instructions of Matsumoto.
Tomoyuki Oyama, the father of Satoko Sakamoto, who was killed along with her lawyer husband and baby boy, said he had reservations about capital punishment, but felt Niimi deserved to die.
" I believe (he has not shown remorse) because he is trying to run away from the pain of looking directly at what he did,'' Oyama said. "He is very immature.''
Those who remember Niimi from the days when he was growing up in Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture, are puzzled at how such a quiet child could have transformed into a cold-blooded killer.
" I guess it's only natural he got the death sentence, since he killed people one after another,'' said a businessman in the neighborhood where Niimi grew up.
There were signs from junior high school that Niimi was a troubled child.
For a graduation anthology, Niimi wrote a short composition titled "Worries,'' which contained the passage, "For the past three years, the only problem that I could never resolve was the bullying that was directed at me.''
Niimi was a skinny boy born with a scar on his upper lip. Although he was a member of the swimming club at school, he never made the team as a regular. He was even bullied by younger students.
He wrote at that time he had no freedom to live or confidence to go on living.
His parents operated a recycling business and collected discarded newspapers and metal scraps. Niimi often helped his parents and read books he collected during his chores.
In his second year of high school, he read a pamphlet published by a religious organization that included members' descriptions of how their diseases were cured.
Niimi joined the organization, believing that his scarred upper lip could be healed.
After moving on to other religious organizations, Niimi read a magazine article during his college days about Matsumoto's experience of floating on air. When he began training with Aum, Niimi said he felt his body grow warm and that he saw the light.
In an Aum magazine, Niimi wrote about those experiences: "I was convinced that I had no choice but to follow (Matsumoto) for the rest of my life.''