Mainichi Daily News (Japan), Mar. 1, 2003
Defense lawyers have ended their questioning of witnesses in the case against accused mass killer Shoko Asahara, the AUM Shinrikyo cult guru indicted over the lethal gassing of Tokyo subways in 1995.
Lawyers concluded their questioning of witnesses during the 250th hearing of the case against Asahara at the Tokyo District Court on Friday. If Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, fails to respond to questioning beginning on March 13, prosecutors could demand a sentence against him as early as April 24, with a likely ruling next spring.
Asahara has remained silent at his trials since he claimed during a hearing in April 1997 that he did not direct the gassing that cult members carried out. He is accused of crimes in 13 incidents, including the slaying of anti-AUM lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family.
Lawyers began establishing their case in May last year, but they have had trouble with Asahara, who has continually failed to cooperate, mumbling to himself in the trials in an inaudible voice.
If Asahara does not cooperate at the next hearing, three attempts will be made to question him. If those attempts fail, prosecutors will present their case for Asahara’s sentencing on April 24, and defense lawyers will give their closing arguments in autumn. The ruling on Asahara would then likely be handed down next spring, eight years since the beginning of the trial.
Several members of the AUM Shinrikyo cult, which is now calling itself Aleph, have already received death and prison sentences.