A member of one of the AUM Shinrikyo death squads that released lethal sarin gas on Tokyo subways in 1995, killing 12 and sickening thousands, should receive the death penalty, according to prosecutors at the Tokyo District Court on Monday.
Masato Yokoyama, 35, has admitted to being one of the doomsday cult members that released the lethal gas during the morning rush hour on March 20, 1995. However, he denies any intent to kill, his lawyers claiming that their client was unaware of the lethal potential of sarin.
"Even though nobody died in the (train) compartment that the defendant was assigned to gas, that was purely coincidental and he should be held responsible for all 12 deaths that arose from the incident," prosecutors said while asking the court to send Yokoyama to the gallows.
The prosecutors' demand that Yokoyama be put to death was the first request for execution that they have made for a member of the hit squad that released the toxic gas on the subway.
Another hit squad member, Kazuaki Okazaki, was given a death sentence, but that ruling was handed down for the murder of a Yokohama lawyer and his family - not in connection with the subway gassing. Yet another member of the death squad, Kunio Hayashi, escaped with a life sentence after the court recognized that he had given himself up to police.
Among all the trains in which AUM members allegedly released the toxic gas, the carriage in which Yokoyama has admitted to releasing sarin was the only one in which no one died.
Nonetheless, prosecutors argued that he was instrumental in the attack that sent shock waves throughout the nation and that his legal responsibility should not be determined according to the results of his actions.
Prosecutors ridiculed Yokoyama's claim that he did not know sarin was a lethal gas, arguing that the cult had lectured its members on the substance's effects. They also argued that Yokoyama had conducted tests to determine how much sarin he could release in a designated amount of time.