Lawyers for AUM cult guru say he's mentally incompetent

Associated Press in Mainichi Daily News/November 11, 2005

Lawyers for a doomsday cult guru on death row for his role in a nerve gas attack on Tokyo's subways a decade ago said Friday their client is mentally incompetent and have called for his sentence to be overturned.

Chief defense lawyer Akio Matsushita said a psychological evaluation conducted last summer indicated Shoko Asahara, the founder of the AUM Shinrikyo cult, is suffering from a brain disorder or pathological mental stress due to confinement.

He is currently being evaluated by both a court-appointed psychiatrist and one chosen by his defense team to see if he is fit to stand an appeals trial.

Asahara was convicted and sentenced to death in February for ordering the 1995 subway attack and a series of other crimes that left 27 people dead and thousands injured.

Matsushita said meetings between lawyers and Asahara, who is confined to a wheelchair and incontinent, have suggested his client is seriously ill.

"We have met him many times, and he has been unable to respond in an intelligible manner," Matsushita told reporters. "He is deeply troubled."

During his eight-year trial, Asahara frequently dozed off, mumbled incoherently and made bizarre gestures.

Asahara's lawyers immediately appealed the sentence, but missed an Aug. 31 deadline for filing an explanation of why, saying they couldn't submit the paperwork because they could not communicate with their client.

The court allowed them to order a psychological evaluation of Asahara, the third such assessment.

Matsushita said the doctor found Asahara's condition was severe, but not incurable if he is given the proper medical treatment.

The defense has called for the court to suspend the appeals trial until Asahara's condition improves.

A court-appointed doctor, however, who examined him recently, found him to be mentally competent.

"The court has insisted that it will go ahead with the (appeal) trial, despite this situation," added Takeshi Matsui, another member of Asahara's defense team.

If his appeal goes through, the case could continue for another several years.

Twelve other member of Asahara's cult have also been sentenced to death for the subway gassing and other crimes.

On March 20, 1995, five members of Asahara's cult released sarin nerve gas on Tokyo subway trains, killing 12 people and sickening thousands of others.

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