Japan Times, July 5, 2003
The Tokyo District Court has tentatively set Feb. 27 as the day it will hand down a ruling in the trial of Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara, who is charged with mass murder for ordering two deadly nerve gas attacks and other heinous crimes.
Public prosecutors, who have demanded the death penalty, and Asahara’s state-appointed lawyers are expected to agree to the date. The ruling would bring to a close Asahara’s nearly eight-year district court trial, which began April 24, 1996.
The date of the ruling will officially be set after the final defense plea in October.
Asahara is expected to be the last of the 192 cultists accused of committing the rash of crimes by Aum to receive a sentence from the Tokyo District Court. Two other Aum members whose district court trials are still going on are scheduled to receive sentences by the end of the year.
On April 24, prosecutors demanded the death penalty for Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, calling his alleged actions the most heinous villainy in Japanese criminal history.
The 48-year-old Asahara was indicted on mass murder and other charges in 13 criminal cases, including the March 1995 subway sarin attack that killed 12 people and left thousands of others injured, and a deadly sarin attack the previous year in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture.
Asahara has remained silent during most of his marathon trial.
Other crimes he is accused of masterminding include the lynching of fellow cultists and the murder of a Yokohama lawyer, who was helping people with complaints against the cult, and the attorney’s wife and infant son.
The court said it informed the lawyers and prosecutors well ahead of the ruling date because of the need to avoid major trial sessions that day at the Tokyo District Court and the Tokyo High Court for reasons of security. The courts are located on the same premises.
The district court also said the unusually early announcement was also made in light of the need to coordinate the schedules of Asahara’s 12 lawyers.