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Top court acquits ex-AUM member amid fears of bombing incident fading into past

The Supreme Court in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward (Mainichi)

Twenty-two years after the May 1995 bombing of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building, the Supreme Court acquitted former AUM Shinrikyo cult member Naoko Kikuchi of all charges on Dec. 27, amid concerns among those caught up in the incident that the attack could now end up fading into the past.

The 46-year-old Kikuchi spent 17 years on the run from authorities before her arrest in June 2012, and while apologizing for her involvement in the bombing, she has continued to maintain her innocence. The Supreme Court's ruling struck down an appeal against a not guilty ruling handed down by the Tokyo High Court in November 2015.

"I feel as though the passing years obstructed the evidence of her guilt," said former metropolitan government employee Masaaki Utsumi, 66, who lost all of his fingers on his left hand from the bomb blast, in an announcement after hearing the decision. "The last 20 years have eaten away at even the hearts of people, and I fear that the incident itself will also fade into the past."

"It's unfortunate," one senior investigator commented, "We investigated her because we thought she was connected to the crimes, but we must accept the court's decision sincerely." Another investigator said indifferently, "From the beginning of the investigation, there was little testimony from the other cult members linking her to the incident, and I got the impression that the evidence was weak. We have no choice but to settle with the innocent verdict."

"It is truly regrettable that the court did not recognize our arguments," said Supreme Public Prosecutors Office trial division head Ryoichi Nakahara in a statement, "but because it was a decision handed down by the Supreme Court, we would like to accept it sincerely."

Kikuchi was indicted on being an accomplice to attempted murder and other charges for carrying chemicals that would be used to make the bomb delivered to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building from an AUM Shinrikyo facility in Yamanashi Prefecture to a cult hideout in Tokyo a total of five times in April 1995 along with other actions.

Of her involvement in the bombing incident, Kikuchi said in court, "I sincerely apologize," while maintaining, "I didn't know that the chemicals I transported would be used to make a bomb," denying the charges against her.

At the conclusion of her first trial in the Tokyo District Court in June 2014, she was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison. However, in a November 2015 appeal trial ruling, that decision was reversed and she was acquitted.

"While you have been found legally innocent, a terrible crime was carried out with the chemicals that you carried, and led to a man losing his fingers," the high court presiding judge told a tearful Kikuchi. After being released, the former cult member said in a statement, "I would like to take the words of the judge to heart seriously in my daily life from now on."

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