Photo/IllutrationSubway passengers receive medical care outside of Tsukiji Station after a sarin gas attack on March 20, 1995. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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Lawyer Tomoki Ikenaga had long felt that a former schoolmate at Waseda University’s law faculty on death row wanted to get something off his chest but could not find the right words.

Ikenaga had frequently visited the Tokyo Detention House, hoping that Satoru Hashimoto would finally explain why he and other highly educated individuals became so infatuated with Aum Shinrikyo founder Chizuo Matsumoto that they would murder innocent people on his instructions.

The lawyer never received an answer.

Hashimoto and the five other Aum Shinrikyo members were executed on July 26.

All 13 cultists who were sentenced to death have now been hanged. But their executions still leave questions open about what led the young members to commit the crimes, including mass murder, more than two decades ago. And the executions have not brought closure to some family members of the victims.

After Matsumoto, who founded Aum Shinrikyo as Shoko Asahara, and six of his disciples were hanged on July 6, Ikenaga visited Hashimoto at Tokyo Detention House. Hashimoto did not seem upset about the death of his guru and the other cult leaders, according to Ikenaga.

Ikenaga was somewhat surprised when Hashimoto repeatedly stopped him when he was about to leave, saying, “There are some things that I have not yet relayed to you.”

Most of Hashimoto’s requests were to pass on messages to his acquaintances.

But Hashimoto's reluctance to allow Ikenaga to leave gave the lawyer the impression that the convicted murderer still wanted to live.

Ikenaga also felt that Hashimoto himself was trying to understand why he and other young members fell under the grip of the cult. The lawyer said he also realized that Hashimoto, even after so many years, still could not separate himself psychologically from Matsumoto.

On one of his prison visits, Ikenaga told Hashimoto, “You might have been able to stop (the crimes) if you had said strongly, ‘Think about what you’re doing.’”

But Hashimoto only replied that there was nothing he could have done to stop the other members.

Whenever he visited the death-row inmate, Ikenaga carried a document seeking a retrial.

The Justice Ministry normally does not carry out capital punishment when such requests are submitted, and Ikenaga was prepared to submit the request as soon as Hashimoto signed it.

But he never did.

“I believe he wanted to carry through with his idea of living and dying gracefully,” Ikenaga said.

Of the six executed on July 26, four had submitted requests for retrials.

Masahiro Abe and Hideyasu Yoshida, two lawyers representing Yasuo Hayashi, who changed his name to Yasuo Koike on death row, issued a statement protesting the hanging while courts had not decided on whether a retrial was needed.

The statement criticized the Justice Ministry for ignoring the rights of those who had submitted retrial requests.

“Yasuo Hayashi held heartfelt feelings of apology, and there was no change in that feeling until the very end,” the statement said. “It is extremely regrettable that the death sentence was carried out.”

Victims of Aum also questioned the wisdom of executing the cultists.

Hiroyuki Nagaoka, 80, heads a group of family members whose loved one once belonged to Aum.

His son was an Aum member, and Nagaoka himself was severely injured in a chemical attack perpetrated by cultists.

Nagaoka often visited Hashimoto as well as Tomomasa Nakagawa, who was hanged on July 6.

“Except for Asahara, the other death-row inmates were all once young members who could only focus on a single thing,” Nagaoka said. “I had doubts about whether (executing them) was the right thing to do, especially since many aspects have not yet been made clear.”

Yai Oyama, 84, of Hitachinaka, Ibaraki Prefecture, felt the death sentences had to be carried out, but said the executions will not ease her pain.

Oyama’s daughter, Satoko, was murdered in 1989 along with her anti-Aum lawyer husband, Tsutsumi Sakamoto, and their 1-year-old son.

Every day, Oyama offers incense at the Buddhist altar at her home and prays for the three. Tears still well up in her eyes whenever she sees a photo of them.

Takeshi Ono is a lawyer who worked alongside Sakamoto in helping Aum victims.

Ono said the death-row inmates were all responsible for crimes that warranted the death sentence, but he added that some of the other inmates could also be considered victims, given their relationship with Matsumoto.

“Society has not carried out a final accounting of why youths with high educational backgrounds became so engrossed in the cult as well as what measures could have been taken when they entered the cult and even after they became members,” Ono said. “It is very regrettable that valuable witnesses of those times have been lost.”

(This article was compiled from reports by Gen Okamoto, Shunsuke Abe, Nobufumi Yamada, Yoko Masuda and Ryo Toyooka.)