Kyodo — The Tokyo High Court on Thursday upheld the death sentence on former senior AUM Shinrikyo cultist Seiichi Endo for killing 19 people and trying to kill others in the 1994-1995 sarin gas attacks by producing the nerve agent as a key architect of the cult's chemical weapons development program.
Endo, 46, was sentenced to death by the Tokyo District Court in October 2002 for the two sarin gas attacks and for a murder attempt in 1994 on a lawyer with sarin and of another attempt to kill a man with VX nerve gas, and had appealed the ruling.
The 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system left 12 people dead and thousands injured, and the 1994 sarin attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, killed seven and injured 144.
"The subway sarin incident was an atrocious and vicious act of violence that was dangerous and unprecedented in our country's crime history," Presiding Judge Osamu Ikeda said in dismissing Endo's appeal.
"The defendant Endo was proactively involved in sarin production and his criminal responsibility is in no way lighter than that of others who carried out the crime," he said.
The defense had argued that the death sentence was too severe as Endo, although he produced weapons, had been brainwashed by AUM founder Shoko Asahara, 52, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, and was not involved in executing the subway attack in March 1995.
In dismissing the defense arguments, Ikeda suggested that Endo had a chance to stop producing sarin when he saw the consequences of releasing the toxic gas in Matsumoto in June 1994.
"He must have become acutely aware of the tragic consequences by going along with others to the scene of the Matsumoto sarin incident, but he nevertheless took part in producing sarin under orders from defendant Matsumoto," he said.
"He played an important role that was indispensable for the crime," said the judge. "It can be hardly said that his free decision-making function had been ripped off. He took part in the crime on his own initiative."
Thirteen people have been given death sentences for the series of AUM crimes, and two of those have exhausted all avenues of appeal — Asahara and Kazuaki Okazaki, a senior member convicted of murdering a lawyer and his family and an AUM follower in 1989.
Appeals against the death sentences are under way for nine others at the Supreme Court and one — by senior member Tomomasa Nakagawa — is being heard at the Tokyo High Court.
The high court upheld Endo's conviction and death sentence for the murder of the 12 people who died in the subway gas attack and of the attempted murder of 14 people who were seriously injured in the attack, in which sarin was released in packed commuter trains on the morning of March 20, 1995.
It also upheld his conviction for the murder of seven people and the attempted murder of four others on June 27, 1994 by releasing sarin in a parking lot in Matsumoto, central Japan.
The lower court had also found Endo guilty of attempting to kill lawyer Taro Takimoto, who was helping AUM members flee from the cult, on May 9, 1994, by placing sarin on the windshield of his car in Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture, and Noboru Mizuno, a parking lot operator who helped protect the family of an AUM member wanting to leave the cult, on Dec. 2, 1994 by spraying VX gas on him on a Tokyo street.
The prosecution told the appeals court that Endo "played a role indispensable for the crimes, and should bear the same level of responsibility with those who carried them out."
A native of Sapporo, Hokkaido, Endo joined AUM in 1987 when he was a graduate student of virology at Kyoto University and served as "health and welfare minister" of the cult, which was allegedly trying to topple the government.