Colleagues rallied to help defend former Aum Shinrikyo lawyer Yoshinobu Aoyama, but in the end they felt betrayed. Despite their cajoling, Aoyama kept returning to the cult.
In his latest trial at Tokyo District Court, where he was sentenced Wednesday to 12 years in prison, Aoyama had 20 lawyers on his defense team-the largest ever assembled in an Aum trial.
Aoyama's attorneys were all former law classmates and they worked pro bono. Aoyama joined Aum Shinrikyo in 1989. The following year, he was arrested by Kumamoto prefectural police on suspicion of forging documents for a land transaction.
His former classmates thought police had overreacted and they decided to defend him. They could not believe Aoyama was serious about the cult. They felt certain he would return-but they were wrong.
As soon as he was released on bail, Aoyama went back to the cult. Said one of his attorneys: "A wall was built between us. It's not something you can describe in words."
In May 1995, Aoyama was rearrested by the Metropolitan Police Department for defaming a company president.
He chose a lawyer who was not a former classmate, but quickly removed him. He didn't want to embarrass his former classmates any more than he already had, said one of his lawyers.
But they regrouped for his defense, with new members joining the team. They also made Aoyama swear to leave Aum for good-but in vain.
Aoyama, however, was arrested yet again in October 1995 for getting other cult members to commit perjury.
The defense team was devastated to learn that they had been lied to. "We grew uncertain," said one. "Once he joined Aum, he was no longer a lawyer. It became his religion."
Others felt they had let their friend down because they had not stopped him returning to the cult.
But in his favor, Aoyama never played a direct role in any of the Aum crimes.
He has yet to appeal his 12-year prison sentence.
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