Former Aum member pleads not guilty in trial appealing life sentence

A former member of the Aum Shinrikyo cult pleaded not guilty Monday in his trial appealing the life sentence he received for his role in the group’s 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.

Katsuya Takahashi, 58, was sentenced to life in prison by the Tokyo District Court in April 2015 after being convicted of murder and other charges over his role as a driver for one of the cult members who released the deadly poison in subway cars on March 20, 1995.

The appeal trial kicked off Monday afternoon at the Tokyo High Court.

Takahashi’s lawyer has denied his client intended to kill, saying he was unaware sarin would be used and had not expected his involvement to result in deaths.

The lower court had dismissed this argument, with the presiding judge saying in the ruling that Takahashi was “aware that a volatile poison would be released and people would most likely be killed.”

Takahashi is also accused of involvement between 1994 and 1995 in attacks involving toxic VX nerve gas, the abduction and confinement of a Tokyo notary clerk and the explosion of a parcel bomb at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government office.

His case was the first over the subway attack to be tried before a combination of six lay and professional judges. The strike on the Tokyo subway system killed 13 and left more than 6,000 people injured.

After nearly 17 years on the run, Takahashi was captured in Tokyo in June 2012.

He was the last Aum Shinrikyo member on a special wanted list created after the attack. The subway incident was masterminded by cult founder Shoko Asahara, now on death row.

During his district court trial, Takahashi referred to Asahara, 61, as “guru,” suggesting he was still under the influence of the founder’s teachings.

A number of Aum members — including Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto — have been found guilty for a series of crimes, including the subway attack.