Tokyo -- The Supreme Court on Friday rejected an appeal by senior AUM Shinrikyo cult member Tomomasa Nakagawa, who was sentenced to death by lower courts for involvement in a series of incidents including the group's sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system in 1995 and in Nagano Prefecture a year earlier.
Nakagawa, a 49-year-old former physician, is set to become the 12th member of the group to have a death sentence finalized. Nakagawa could still file for an amendment of the ruling if he identifies an error within 10 days, but the country's top court has rarely accepted such a request.
Nakagawa was convicted of involvement in the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway on March 20, 1995, that killed 13 people and left thousands ill, and was found guilty of involvement in an earlier sarin attack that killed eight people in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, on June 27, 1994.
He was convicted of murdering a total of 24 people in the two sarin attacks, the killing in November 1989 of 33-year-old anti-AUM lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife and son, and two other criminal cases, according to the lower court rulings.
Yuki Furuta, presiding justice of the top court's second petty bench, said the crimes in which Nakagawa and other AUM members were involved were organized and planned to "defend the cult and challenge the nation governed by the rule of law" and they were "antisocial and wantonly disregarded human life."
"The cruel and inhuman nature of the crimes and the severity of their outcome are unparalleled," he said, adding that the anguish of the victims and bereaved families is very deep.
The judgment stated that Nakagawa played a proactive, indispensable role in the crimes, including fatally strangling Sakamoto's wife and son, and synthesizing sarin, and he therefore bears a heavy criminal responsibility.
The five justices of the No. 2 petty bench unanimously reached the conclusion that the death penalty is unavoidable for Nakagawa, even though he committed most of the crimes on the instructions of AUM founder Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto.
Nakagawa was given the death penalty by the Tokyo District Court in October 2003 as demanded by prosecutors and the Tokyo High Court rejected his appeal against the district court ruling in July 2007.
His defense lawyers had argued that Nakagawa developed mental disorders after various abnormal experiences and his crimes were induced by his illness, suggesting that he could not be held liable for the murders and other felonies. They also argued Nakagawa did not conspire with other AUM members in executing the sarin attacks.
The top court also plans to rule Monday on an appeal filed by senior AUM member Seiichi Endo, 51, a veterinarian and virologist, who was also sentenced to death by lower courts for his involvement in the sarin gas attacks.
Asahara, 56, was found to have masterminded the heinous crimes and he was convicted of murdering a total of 27 people in 13 criminal cases and sentenced to death by the Tokyo District Court in February 2004. His death sentence has been finalized.
Nakagawa became a member of the cult in 1988 when he was a student at Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine. He served as Asahara's personal doctor.
Monday's Supreme Court decision on Endo's appeal will effectively put an end to more than 16 years of investigations and trials for Asahara and a total of 188 members of the group, who were charged with involvement in a series of AUM crimes. All the defendants were found guilty.
Three AUM members are still on the run and remain on the wanted list.
AUM Shinrikyo, known as AUM Supreme Truth in English, renamed itself Aleph in 2000. It remains under the surveillance of the Justice Ministry's Public Security Intelligence Agency.
In 2007, a senior member and some followers left Aleph to launch a splinter group called Hikari no Wa (Circle of Rainbow Light).