TOKYO — Cult leader Shoko Asahara dismissed his lawyer yesterday, a day before the start of his murder trial in connection with the nerve gas attacks on Tokyo’s subways. The move could delay the trial for months.
Tokyo District Court officials said no reason was given for dismissing attorney Shoji Yokoyama in documents delivered to them at the end of the day yesterday.
According to Japanese law, a murder trial cannot begin unless the defendant has a lawyer. Legal analysts said a new lawyer would need at least two months to study the case against Asahara.
It was the latest twist in the drama of the Sublime Truth cult, accused of carrying out the March 20 attack that killed 12 people and sickened 5,500 others.
The trial was nearly put off earlier this week after Yokoyama was injured in a traffic accident, but he agreed to appear anyway. He was riding in a car driven by a cult member when it was hit after making an illegal U-turn.
Finding another lawyer may not be easy for Asahara. Attorneys have shunned involvement with the cult, and the Tokyo Bar Association had to promise anonymity to lawyers who did support work in connection with the cases against it.
The last-minute postponement was a disappointment to those who hoped the trial would provide the fullest account yet of what went on inside the secretive cult.
The cult was not answering calls to its Tokyo office yesterday evening, and there was no answer at Yokoyama’s office either.
Other senior cult leaders also face murder charges in the subway gassing and other killings, and about 160 followers are charged for a variety of other crimes.
Some former cult disciples have implicated Asahara during trials already under way.
The cult leader could get the death penalty if found guilty. But the full legal process, including appeals, could take years.