Seventh Japan Cult Member Gets Death Penalty


Reuters, July 28, 2000
By Kazunori Takada

TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese court sentenced a seventh former member of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult to death on Friday for murders linked to the group's killing of a man who wanted to leave the group and a lawyer investigating the cult.

Kiyohide Hayakawa, 51, had been charged with the murder of a lawyer opposed to the cult along with his wife and year-old baby in 1989 and also for strangling a member who tried to quit.

Tokyo District Court Judge Kaoru Kanayama said Hayakawa deserved the penalty because he played the main role in the extremely brutal killing of the family of lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto. ``It is unforgiveable that he showed no hesitation to kill in the interests of the religious group,'' Kyodo news agency quoted Kanayama as saying. ``There is no room at all for mercy. We cannot see even a fragment of humanity in him.''

Hayakawa, known as the cult's ``construction minister'' had also been charged with building a factory to produce the sarin gas unleashed in an attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995 that killed 12 people and injured thousands. Hayakawa is the seventh Aum member to receive the death penalty for his involvement in the subway gas attack and the third ordered to hang for the murder of the Sakamoto family.

Executions in Japan are by hanging, but take place only rarely. Most of those condemned spend many years in prison. Murdered lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, one of Aum's most vocal critics, had been investigating its activities.

Ignored Mother's Pleas

Prosecutors said Hayakawa and other cult members crept into the home of Sakamoto as he, his wife and son slept, injected them with lethal doses of potassium chloride and strangled them. The defense argued Hayakawa was merely obeying the orders of cult leader Shoko Asahara. The judge said the accused had conspired with Asahara in the murder of the Sakamoto family.

The judge noted it was particularly cruel of Hayakawa and other members involved in the murder to have ignored the mother's desperate plea for them not to kill her baby son, Kyodo said. Lawyers for Hayakawa said they had immediately appealed against the ruling, Kyodo said.

The murders drew public attention to the cult even before the lethal subway gas attack in March 1995 that shocked a nation that had long prided itself on the safety of its citizens. Of the five cult members charged with the Tokyo subway attack, four have received the death penalty and one life imprisonment. Most of Aum's leaders are behind bars, but worries about the cult's activities prompted the government to place it under surveillance in February for three years.

The cult has changed its name to Aleph -- the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet -- and insists it is now a benign religious group. In the past, it preached that the world was coming to an end and that the cult must arm itself to prepare for calamities.

Leader's Trial To Drag On

On Tuesday, cult member Satoru Hashimoto, 33, was found guilty for his part in the murder of the Sakamoto family as well as for a 1994 sarin gas attack on a central Japanese city that killed seven people and injured scores. Last week, two other Aum members were sentenced to death for murder and attempted murder for their roles in releasing sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway incident.

The two, Toru Toyoda, 32, and Kenichi Hirose, 36, are appealing against their sentences. Last month, another leading member of the cult, Yasuo Hayashi, 42 -- dubbed a ``murder machine'' by the media for his crimes -- was sentenced to death because, the judge said, he released the largest amount of poisonous sarin gas in the subway attack.

Kazuaki Okazaki, another former senior Aum member, was sentenced to death in 1998 for the murder of the Sakamoto family -- the first death sentence handed down to Aum members.

Cult leader Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, remains on trial for organising the gassing and 16 other charges.

Asahara's trial is now in its fifth year and could go on much longer given Japan's notoriously snail-paced court system, with some legal experts saying it may well take more than 15 years to reach a final verdict.

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