Ikuo Hayashi, the former chief doctor for Aum Shinrikyo, was handed a life prison term Tuesday for committing mass murder in the March 1995 Tokyo subway nerve gas attack, even though the judge said he "deserves the death penalty due to the gravity of the crime."
Presiding Judge Megumi Yamamuro of the Tokyo District Court said he could not pass a death sentence because Hayashi helped investigators when he confessed to his role in the gassing and because he had showed deep remorse in court.
"Due to the nature of the crime, no other option but capital punishment can be considered for the defendant," the judge said, describing the sarin attack as indiscriminate and an inhumane act of terrorism that ignored the dignity of human beings.
But Yamamuro went on to point out a number of reasons why Hayashi deserved leniency, including how his confession helped the police investigation into the attack.
Hayashi's confession, which came at a time when links between the cult and the gassing had not been firmly established, served as the breakthrough in the investigation and enabled police to arrest other cult leaders, including founder Shoko Asahara, the judge said. "The defendant regarded telling the truth in court as his last mission, and did not hesitate to testify to the facts, even if they were against him," the judge said. "Many people must have felt a lump in their throats to see the defendant crying out his sorrow as he testified."
The court said the next of kin of two subway station workers who were killed by the gas Hayashi released did not want the defendant executed. The court also said Hayashi's role in the gassing was passive, because the crime was ordered by Asahara. Asahara is still on trial for allegedly masterminding the attack, as well as a spate of other crimes.
There were 492 people lined up in front of the courthouse in the morning to participate in a lottery for 54 gallery seats in the largest courtroom, where Hayashi's trial session was scheduled.
Hayashi, handcuffed and dressed in a gray suit, entered the courtroom and bowed at 10 a.m. He remained in his chair throughout, showing no emotion as the judge started reading out the background reasons for the court's decision.
Hayashi occasionally dabbed his tears with a handkerchief as the statement detailed the day he got on the subway to release the gas. At 11:10 a.m., the judge asked the defendant to stand before him and issued the life sentence. As television reporters dashed out of the courtroom, Hayashi calmly gave the judge a deep bow.
Hayashi's sentence covered all six charges he faced in connection with the gassing and five other offenses, including the illegal confinement of Tokyo notary public Kiyoshi Kariya, who was allegedly abducted by members of Aum because he opposed his sister's plan to donate her assets to the cult and become a resident-follower.