The defense counsel for Masami Tsuchiya, a former senior member of the AUM Shinrikyo cult, again pleaded not guilty Wednesday to the murder of 13 people in crimes committed by the sect, including the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attack, as his appeals trial began at the Tokyo High Court.
The defense said Tsuchiya, 40, who was sentenced to death in January 2004 by the Tokyo District Court for playing key roles in the crimes, said he had only acted in line with instructions from higher ranked members of the sect.
The defendant himself was not present at Wednesday's high court hearing.
Tsuchiya was the 11th person to receive the death penalty in connection with crimes committed by AUM, founded by Shoko Asahara in the 1980s.
Of the 189 people indicted for AUM-related crimes, the trained chemist was the second-to-last defendant to receive a ruling at a district court. The last was AUM's founder.
Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was sentenced to death by the Tokyo District Court on Feb. 27, 2004 for his role in 13 criminal cases, including the fatal sarin attack on Tokyo subway trains in 1995. His defense team has appealed the ruling.
The district court found Tsuchiya guilty on all counts except a charge of hiding two wanted AUM members. His defense team has appealed the ruling.
The court concluded that Tsuchiya had developed all chemical weapons used in the crimes he was charged with under the instruction of Asahara.
"It is not an exaggeration to say that without him, the AUM-related crimes in which chemical weapons were used could not have taken place," the district court judge said. "He played a major role in a series of crimes."
Tsuchiya was accused of murder and attempted murder in the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway in March 1995 that killed 12 people and left thousands injured.
He was also charged in six other cases, including three incidents in which VX nerve gas was used to kill or harm people.
He pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The defense team had claimed Tsuchiya did not intend to kill anyone as he did not know the deadly weapons would be used.
Tsuchiya was in a doctorate program in chemistry at Tsukuba University when he became a live-in follower of the cult.
AUM renamed itself Aleph in January 2000.