Top court upholds life term for ex-AUM member, gas attack driver

Kyodo News Service/February 10, 2004

Tokyo -- The Supreme Court has upheld lower court rulings sentencing a former member of the AUM Shinrikyo cult to life in prison for murder for his role as a driver in the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, court sources said Tuesday. As demanded by the prosecutors, the Tokyo District Court in 2000 and the Tokyo High Court the following year sentenced Kiyotaka Tonozaki, 40, to a life term. Tonozaki appealed to the Supreme Court in 2002. The court's ruling was dated Monday.

According to the two earlier rulings, Tonozaki conspired with AUM founder and leader Shoko Asahara, 48, and others to spread sarin during the morning rush hour on the subway system on March 20, 1995. Twelve people died and 14 were seriously injured.

The courts said that Tonozaki drove Masato Yokoyama, a former senior AUM official, to the scene, and that although no one died on the train route where Yokoyama spread sarin, a life sentence was appropriate.

Yokoyama, who has been sentenced to death, is appealing to the top court.

During the trial, Tonozaki apologized to victims of the gassing and bereaved relatives, saying he now believes the teachings of Asahara are wrong. He has quit the cult.

Fourteen people, including Asahara, have been indicted over the case. Tonozaki is the third among them to have a conviction finalized.

AUM now calls itself Aleph.

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