Aum’s Asahara silent during final questioning

Kyodo (Japan), Apr. 10, 2003
http://www.japantoday.com/

TOKYO — Aum Shinrikyo cult founder Shoko Asahara on Thursday forfeited his final chance to respond to questions by his lawyers on his role in Aum crimes including the 1995 gassing of the Tokyo subway, maintaining his silence as his seven-year trial at the Tokyo District Court drew closer to a conclusion.

The court set April 24 as the date when prosecutors will demand a sentence. The prosecutors, who concluded they have done their best to prove that Asahara was the mastermind behind the sarin gas attack and other Aum crimes, are widely expected to demand the death penalty.

The court will hand down a ruling after the defense counsel gives the final arguments Oct 30 and 31.

Asahara, 48, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was indicted on charges in 13 criminal cases, including murder in the subway attack that killed 12 people and injured more than 5,000.

Thursday’s court proceedings were the third and final questioning session in the prolonged trial, and the examination of evidence was completed in Thursday’s 253rd hearing.

“Former (Aum) executive members also say they want you to speak,” a defense lawyer told Asahara in a bid to get the onetime guru to answer questions. But he kept mum, remaining seated with his head down.

Asahara also refused to answer questions by his court-appointed lawyers and Presiding Judge Shoji Ogawa on both previous questioning sessions March 13 and 27.

The last time he spoke in court was in November 1999 as a witness in the trial of a former senior Aum cultist. He then said he had not known that Aum possessed sarin.

Before Thursday’s session, the defense lawyers said Asahara’s condition might improve if he were allowed to meet two of his daughters, and urged the court to partially lift a ban on such meetings. But Ogawa refused, citing concerns that evidence might be destroyed.

In the morning before the questioning began, a total of eight Aum crime victims and relatives of those who died presented opinion statements to the court.

Asahara was first indicted in 17 criminal cases, in which 27 people died.

In February 1997, however, prosecutors reduced the number of people who suffered from sarin gas exposure mentioned in the indictment from about 4,000 to 18 to expedite the trial, which began in April 1996.

In October 2000, they also dropped charges against him in four criminal cases relating to Aum’s alleged secret production of drugs.

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