Trial of Aum founder Asahara heading for end

Kyodo News/February 26, 2003
By Sarah Suk

Tokyo -- Prosecutors may present the closing statement in late April in the trial of Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara for murder and other charges including those related to the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attack, legal sources said Wednesday.

The Tokyo District Court has informed the prosecution and defense teams of its decision to question the defendant in at least three hearings of the seven scheduled for March and April, including the 251st hearing slated for March 13, according to the sources.

If Asahara, 47, refuses to speak or answer questions, as he has done up to now, the prosecution is likely to deliver its closing statement in late April, bringing the trial that began in April 1996 to its final stage, the sources said.

Asahara was indicted on 13 counts, including seven of murder. The 1995 sarin gas attack took the lives of 12 people and injured more than 5,000.

In April 1997, Asahara pleaded not guilty to all the charges except for one of attempted murder. He has refused to consult with his court-appointed lawyers throughout the almost seven years of the trial so far.

Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, has refused to respond to questions from the presiding judge in court.

His defense team has asked the court to approve questioning of the defendant in at least three hearings and the court and the prosecutors have indicated agreement with the request, according to the sources.

The defense examination of witnesses, which began last June, is scheduled to end this month. The presentation of evidence for the trial is expected to end after victims and relatives of the dead make their statements, in addition to the questioning of Asahara.

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