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Japan sentences former cult member to death

July 28, 2000
Web posted at: 2:03 PM HKT (0603 GMT)

TOKYO (Reuters) -- A Japanese court sentenced on Friday a seventh former member of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult to death for his role in several murders -- including the death of a man who had tried to leave 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 the cult.

Tokyo District Court Judge Kaoru Kanayama said Hayakawa deserved the death penalty because he played the main role at his own initiative in the extremely brutal killing of the family of the lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, Kyodo news agency reported.

He 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 involvement in the subway gas attack and the third ordered to hang for the brutal 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.

The murdered lawyer, one of Aum's most vocal critics, had been investigating its activities.

Prosecutors said Hayakawa and other cult members crept into the home of Sakamoto as he and his wife and son slept, injected them with lethal doses of potassium chloride and strangled them.

Kanayama 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 son, Kyodo reported.

The murders drew public attention to the cult even before the lethal subway gas attack in March 1995 which shocked a nation which had long prided itself on the safety of its citizens.

On Tuesday, cult member Satoru Hashimoto, 33, was found guilty for his part in the murder of the Sakamoto family, and for a 1994 sarin gas attack on a central Japanese city that killed seven people and injured several others.

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

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 key 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.

Cult leader Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, remains on trial for organizing 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.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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