Sixteen years of trials involving 189 members of the Aum Supreme Truth cult effectively ended Monday with the Supreme Court's rejection of the appeal by a former senior cult member who was sentenced to death for his involvement in crimes including the group's sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995.
Yet there is still no closure for the families of Aum's victims, as cult founder Shoko Asahara has never spoken about why he masterminded the crimes that killed 29 people.
"The appeal is denied."
So said presiding Justice Seishi Kanetsuki as he turned down the appeal filed by Seiichi Endo, 51. This essentially ended the trials involving the cult led by Asahara, 56, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto.
Endo became the 13th and last Aum member sentenced to death for his involvement in a series of crimes, including another sarin gas attack in Nagano Prefecture.
Shizue Takahashi, 64, whose husband Kazumasa died in the subway sarin attack at the age of 50, stared at the judge. She closed her eyes for the about two minutes it took him to read the court's decision.
Speaking at a later press conference with other relatives of Aum victims in Kasumigaseki, Tokyo, Takahashi said it was ironic the 16 years ended with a trial of Endo, who did not show any remorse.
"That's the way Aum trials are," she said.
Kazumasa worked at Kasumigaseki Station and died while trying to wipe up sarin used in the attack. Takahashi said he was always with her when she attended Aum trials, "so I don't have to visit his grave to tell him about the cases."
Takahashi said she can never forget her children calling to their father and sobbing at the hospital where Kazumasa was taken after the attack.
She has attended 436 hearings in Aum-related trials, starting in December 1995 when the cases began in earnest.
The first trial she attended was that of former Aum physician Ikuo Hayashi, 64, who is currently serving a life sentence for releasing sarin at Tokyo Metro's Kasumigaseki Station.
Takahashi said she was confused when she saw Hayashi in court since he "did not look like a bad person." Although she repeatedly attended his hearings, she could not determine what really drove Hayashi to commit the crime.
"I could only imagine that something went insane inside him," she said.
Takahashi cannot forget Hayashi's tearful response, "I shouldn't be alive," when he was asked how he felt about the victims during a hearing in December 1997.
However, Takahashi cannot shake her doubts that he may have said this just to appeal to the judges.
The trials are over, but Takahashi is tormented by the fact that Matsumoto, who ruined many of his followers' lives, has said nothing about his crimes.
"I wanted Matsumoto to admit he used his believers for his own ambition," Takahashi said. "He won't tell the truth, so there's no need to let him live."
Takahashi has traveled the country to appeal for better support systems for victims, giving more than 200 speeches on the subject.
Takahashi has said she wants to reclaim the past 16 years of her life in the years to come, but she will also continue to talk about her experience to prevent the case from being forgotten.
Other bereaved family members also gathered at the Supreme Court to observe the ruling on Monday. Masako Yasumoto, 75, who lost her daughter, Mii, then 29, in the 1994 sarin gas attack in Nagano Prefecture, said tearfully: "My daughter must be watching the ruling with me. I don't understand why Matsumoto has said nothing about why he had to take my daughter's life."
Endo admitted the charges at his first trial in November 1995. However, he dismissed his lawyer Kenji Nozaki shortly after that and has asserted his innocence ever since.
Nozaki said: "I persuaded him to admit to the charges to avoid the death penalty. It's regrettable he chose capital punishment." Nozaki has said Matsumoto's followers, including Endo, should not be executed.
Also present at the ruling was Hiroshi Araki, 43, head of the public relations department of Aleph, a religious group that split from Aum.
"There is nothing we can say to the victims and their bereaved families. We'd like to show our sincerity by continuing to pay compensation to bereaved families," Araki said.