Prosecutors seek death sentences in Aum trial


Yomiuri Shimbun, December 8, 1999

Prosecutors on Tuesday sought death sentences for two Aum Supreme Truth cult members and life imprisonment for another, all of whom were accused of murder and other crimes in connection with the March 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system. In demanding death sentences for Toru Toyoda, 31, and Kenichi Hirose, 35, at the Tokyo District Court, prosecutors said the sarin attack was an "indiscriminate mass murder committed under the guise of carrying out a dogma."

Toyoda and Hirose were accused of releasing sarin gas in subway trains. Prosecutors also demanded life imprisonment for Shigeo Sugimoto, 40, who served as a driver to transport the members that released the nerve gas. The gas attack left 12 dead and 5,300 injured.

The court is expected to hand down rulings next summer after defense counsels for the three Aum members deliver their closing statements on March 2.

Tuesday's prosecution demand for death sentences for Toyoda and Hirose brought to four the number of Aum members who have faced prosecution death sentence demands.

The two others were Masato Yokoyama, 36, who was sentenced to death by the Tokyo District Court for his involvement in the sarin attack and is currently appealing the ruling, and Kazuaki Okazaki, 38, who was sentenced to capital punishment by the court after being convicted of murdering lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family. He is also currently appealing.

According to prosecutors, Toyoda and Hirose were "deeply involved in plotting and preparing" the sarin attack, which was masterminded by cult founder Chizuo Matsumoto, also known as Shoko Asahara. The prosecution also said the two Aum members were in charge of releasing the gas, for which they must shoulder "extremely heavy" criminal responsibility.

Prosecutors determined that Sugimoto's role in the sarin attack as a driver was different from those who released the gas, and demanded the lesser sentence of life imprisonment.

Sugimoto was also accused of murder in connection with the killing of two Aum followers, Kotaro Ochida and Toshio Tomita. In both cases, Sugimoto voluntarily confessed to taking part in the killing--an extenuating circumstance in demands for criminal punishment.

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