TOKYO, Sept. 11–(Kyodo) — Expectations are growing among legal experts that the Supreme Court will soon hand down its decision on whether to finalize the death sentence or resume court hearings for AUM cult founder Shoko Asahara after his defense team filed a special appeal more than three months ago.
The defense team for the 51-year-old filed the appeal on June 5 to reverse the earlier high court decision that dismissed Asahara’s appeal over his death sentence for his roles in the fatal sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995 and other criminal cases.
The court has been reviewing documents from the first hearing and opinions from psychiatrists who interviewed Asahara, mostly for its procedural advisability, and experts say they believe the court is in the final stage of the process.
One such expert said that considering the Tokyo High Court took about two months to reject the defense’s objection for dismissing its appeal over the death sentence, and even taking summer vacation into account, it is about time the Supreme Court came up with its conclusion.
If the Supreme Court accepts the special appeal, it will either have the appeal court open hearings on the case or hearings on the defense’s objection over the court’s dismissal of its appeal, but if it decides to reject it, his death sentence will stand.
The defendant is suffering from a severe psychological disorder and is hardly capable of standing trial, lawyers Akio Matsushita and Takeshi Matsui said.
The court should suspend hearings and let the defendant receive treatment so he would be able to stand trial, they said.
If the special appeal is turned down, “we must say it will be a judgment that will go down in history as an error that deliberately ignored fact and procedure,” the lawyers said.
Only six out of 2,689 special appeals have been accepted by the court in the last decade.
Asahara was sentenced to death at the Tokyo District Court in February 2004 for his role in 13 criminal cases including the sarin gas attack that killed 12 and injured over 5,500. His defense team immediately appealed the sentence.
But the defense team missed the Aug. 31 deadline last year for submitting a statement of reason for appeal with the Tokyo High Court, saying it could not communicate with the defendant and that he could not stand trial.
The high court turned down the defense side’s appeal on March 27 for failing to meet the Aug. 31 deadline for submitting the statement of reason.
The defense team submitted the statement of reason for the appeal the next day with the high court and also filed on March 30 an objection against the court’s dismissal of its appeal, but the court turned down the objection.
The major points of argument over the dismissal of appeal are whether the belated submission of the statement was unavoidable, whether Asahara is capable of standing trial, and whether it is just for the defendant to face the consequences brought about by his own defense team.
The trial for Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, began in April 1996.
AUM Shinrikyo has renamed itself Aleph.