Aum Shinrikyo trials come to an end

More than two decades after the Sarin attacks in Tokyo’s subways that killed 13, the stage has shifted to the execution of 13 people convicted in the crime. When they will be sent to the gallows, though, remains a mystery in Japan’s highly secretive death penalty system.

The Supreme Court rejected an appeal in the final case last week, so the condemned are no longer needed as potential trial witnesses. The court upheld a life sentence for Katsuya Takahashi, a driver in the attack who was convicted of murder.

Shoko Asahara, the guru of Aum Shinrikyo, and 12 others have been sentenced to death. Whether any will be hanged this year is unknown. Japan generally announces executions only after they have happened.

“The end of the trials, which took so long, is a fresh reminder of the horror of all the crimes committed by Aum,” Shizue Takahashi, the wife of a subway stationmaster who died in the attack, told reporters Friday. “Now the focus for the families of the victims and other people will shift to the executions.”

Of the 122 people on death row in Japan, more than 90 are appealing their sentences. Retrials are rarely granted, and filing an appeal does not protect one from the gallows. Four people were executed last year.

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