Trial ends with a blank stare from Aum guru Asahara

After 256 court sessions, the trial of Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara finally drew to a close on Friday, with the defendant again refusing to speak.

Asahara’s lawyers presented their final arguments to the Tokyo District Court, which heard the first session in the case in April 1996, and the court announced that it would hand down a ruling Feb. 27.

Prosecutors have demanded the death penalty for Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto.

On the second and final day of their closing arguments, the lawyers representing 48-year-old Asahara asserted his innocence in connection with the remaining six out of 13 cases prosecutors have brought against him, including the March 20, 1995, sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.

The lawyers continued to argue that it was Asahara’s disciples who were to blame for the crimes, having ignored or misunderstood Asahara’s doctrine and gone “out of control.” They identified senior cultists Hideo Murai and Yoshihiro Inoue as masterminding the subway attacks.

The lawyers also maintained that prosecutors had distorted the truth, and tried to demonstrate this by selecting extremely detailed discrepancies between followers’ testimonies and the prosecutors’ allegations.

After all the arguments were read out, presiding Judge Shoji Ogawa asked Asahara whether he wanted to speak.

“As you understand, the deliberations are over. You will be handed your ruling next,” the judge said. “Is there something you want to say?”

But Asahara, who was standing in front of the judge, simply stared blankly.

Critics argue that his silence throughout the 7 1/2-year trial has made it difficult for many of the details surrounding the crimes to be clarified.

But in his closing statement, Osamu Watanabe, head of Asahara’s defense team, said this argument was wrong because a defendant has the right to remain silent and prosecutors are responsible for determining the facts relevant to the alleged offense.

He added that prosecutors could not get to the truth because they did not conduct necessary investigations, such as delving into the cult’s religious activities, and instead fabricated their own scenarios.

“If this way of investigation and prosecution becomes widely accepted, Japan’s criminal justice system, which is based on evidence presented in court, will crumble,” he warned.

Although the number of people from among the general public who attended the hearings had tapered off as the years went by, hundreds tried to get a glimpse of Asahara as the trial neared its end.

In a news conference following the trial, Shizue Takahashi, the wife of subway sarin attack victim Kazumasa Takahashi, said the defense team had failed to investigate why the cult had committed such atrocities, adding that part of the reason was their failure to get Asahara to open up.

“The lawyers, who normally give me their written statements, didn’t give them to me this time,” she said. “I don’t think they have enough confidence in them to show the victims.”

She also voiced regret that, as a result of the prolonged trial, Asahara will live longer than her husband, who died at age 50.

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The Japan Times, Japan
Nov. 1, 2003

Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday November 1, 2003.
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