AUM founder Asahara found guilty of all 13 charges

Shoko Asahara, the founder of the AUM Shinrikyo cult, is guilty of all 13 charges against him, including the 1995 sarin gassing on the Tokyo subway system, the Tokyo District Court ruled Friday.

The guilty verdicts handed down against the 48-year-old guru boost the likelihood of a death penalty since any one of the cases carries a death penalty.

Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, faced charges in 13 criminal cases that resulted in the death of 27 people.

Of the major crimes, Asahara was found guilty of ordering the murder of lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family in November 1989. Sakamoto, who had been helping people with complaints against the cult, was murdered with his wife and 1-year-old son on Nov. 4, 1989.

He was also found guilty of ordering the sarin gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, on June 27, 1994, in which seven people were killed, as well as another sarin gas attack on March 20, 1995, on five trains on three subway lines, which killed 12 people and injured more than 5,500.

Apart from these crimes, Asahara also faces other charges, some of which he had already been found guilty of since the court opened its session from 9:59. The court went into a lunch break at 12:10 p.m. after pronouncing the verdicts on seven charges.

Asahara has been on trial for nearly eight years.

The day’s session began with Presiding Judge Shoji Ogawa pronouncing Asahara guilty of ordering the murder of AUM follower Shuji Taguchi, 21, who had wanted to leave the cult. He was killed in early February 1989 at an AUM complex in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka Prefecture.

Regarding the Matsumoto incident, the court said Asahara ordered the attack in an attempt to murder a judge hearing an AUM-related case and with the intention of also murdering residents of the city, while it also ruled on the Sakamoto case that the testimonies pointing to Asahara as the mastermind are credible.

In a statement, a group of lawyers representing the Matsumoto victims said they found it offensive that they did not see any remorse shown by Asahara at all.

”(He) should own up to the crime and apologize to the bereaved relatives,” they said.

Asahara is the last of 189 people charged in AUM-related crimes to be sentenced, and is likely to become the 12th to get the death penalty.

Reflecting deep public interest in the case, 4,658 people lined up for the 38 seats open to the public in the courtroom.

The prosecutors and Asahara’s 12 state-appointed defense lawyers have clashed throughout the trial, which has dragged on for nearly eight years because of the complexity of the case and huge amount of testimony.

The focus of the trial in all 13 cases has been whether Asahara ordered his followers to commit the crimes.

On April 24, 2003, the prosecutors demanded the death penalty for Asahara, calling his actions the most heinous in Japanese criminal history and labeling him the mastermind behind all the crimes attributed to AUM.

In particular, the prosecutors described the 1995 gassing as an indiscriminate mass killing he ordered in an attempt to obstruct impending police investigations.

In their closing arguments on Oct. 30 and 31, the defense team laid the blame on Asahara’s followers, claiming they acted without his instructions.

For most of the trial, which began April 24, 1996, Asahara has remained silent.

During the first hearing, he did not enter a plea, but a year later, he pleaded not guilty to all charges except one of attempted murder in a case involving a VX nerve gas attack.

Arguments in the trial, which the prosecutors sought to expedite by dropping four of 17 cases in October 2000, finally wrapped up last October after 256 hearings.

Following Asahara’s arrest in May 1995, AUM tried to shed its crime-tainted image, and renamed itself Aleph in January 2000, but the cult is under surveillance by the Justice Ministry’s Public Security Intelligence Agency.

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Kyodo, Japan
Feb. 27, 2004

Religion News Blog posted this on Friday February 27, 2004.
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