Death sentence sought for cultist

Japan Times/May 27, 1999

Prosecutors asked for the death penalty Monday for a former senior member of Aum Shinrikyo accused of releasing sarin in the deadly March 1995 Tokyo subway gas attack that killed 12 and injured thousands, and illegally manufacturing firearms.

Prosecutors said before the Tokyo District Court that Masato Yokoyama, 35, participated in every major act leading up to the attack, including plotting the crime and inspecting the scene beforehand, proving he actively took part in the attack on March 20, 1995.

"There is no other option but to demand capital punishment," said a prosecutor, calling his act "merciless and coldblooded."

Rulings on other former Aum followers accused of involvement in the subway gas attack are scheduled for later this year or early next year. The death penalty request for Yokoyama, one of five Aum members who allegedly released the deadly nerve gas and a former deputy chief of the cult's science and technology agency, is expected to affect those trials.

The final hearing for Yokoyama, in which his lawyers are expected to make their final remarks in his defense, is scheduled for June 29.

"There is no element in the defendant that would call for leniency," a prosecutor said, pointing out that Yokoyama failed to clarify details of the deadly attack during his court hearings by either remaining silent or refusing to testify.

Yokoyama, with his hair clipped short, sat with eyes downcast and showed no reaction while the prosecution read its statement.

In May 1998, former Aum doctor Ikuo Hayashi, 52, was sentenced to life in prison for releasing sarin in the subway incident.

But prosecutors said Yokoyama's criminal liability is heavier than that of Hayashi, who joined in the attack after the planning stages, because Yokoyama participated from the beginning. Hayashi's leniency also resulted from his remorse and cooperation with prosecutors, they added.

Yokoyama's lawyers had argued that his charge should be reduced from murder to inflicting injury because no deaths occurred on the Marunouchi line subway where he pierced a sarin bag with the tip of an umbrella.

But prosecutors responded that the lack of deaths was caused by circumstances beyond his control and had nothing to do with Yokoyama's intentions.

Yokoyama also played a major role in manufacturing pistols as part of the doomsday cult's militarization by drafting a manufacturing plan and supervising subordinates, prosecutors said.

In his opening trial session in December 1995, Yokoyama admitted in court that he pierced a container of sarin nerve gas but denied intending to commit murder.

Yokoyama allegedly boarded the Marunouchi line subway at Shinjuku Station and released one of the two plastic bags of sarin, which injured about 200 people.

Yokoyama's lawyers had argued that he did not know the deadliness of the nerve gas and had not intended to kill anyone.

Last month, prosecutors demanded life imprisonment for Koichi Kitamura, 31, accused of chauffeuring senior cultist Kenichi Hirose, who is also accused of releasing sarin in the March 1995 attack.

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