Last death sentence upheld in 1995 Tokyo subway gas attack

Tue Dec 13, 2011 3:58pm EST
 
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TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's Supreme Court upheld a death sentence handed down on a member of the doomsday cult that staged gas attacks on the Tokyo subway in 1995, a court spokesman said on Tuesday, ending the trials of cult followers charged in a series of assaults.

Seiichi Endo, 51, was the 13th member of the Aum Shinri Kyo cult to have his death sentence confirmed in a ruling issued on Monday. First sentenced in 2002, Endo had joined the cult in 1987, when he was studying virology at the University of Kyoto.

Local media said none of those found guilty had been executed. Justice Minister Hideo Hiraoka last month said he would make no comment on the cases but would "cautiously decide" on whether to apply the death penalty.

The cult's founder, Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, had his death sentence confirmed in 2006. Three cult members are still on the run.

Simultaneous attacks with sarin nerve gas on five Tokyo subway trains during the rush hour on March 20, 1995, killed 12 people and made thousands ill.

The attacks, with images of bodies lying across platforms and soldiers in gas masks sealing off subway stations, shattered the country's self-image as a haven of public safety.

Asahara was found guilty of the 1989 murder of a lawyer who opposed the cult as well as his wife and child. He was also convicted of conspiracy in a 1994 sarin attack in central Japan.

Aum Shinri Kyo claimed responsibility for the Tokyo attack and later changed its name to Aleph, which still has 1,000 members, according to the Public Security Intelligence Agency.

(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Ron Popeski)