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Japanese cult case

Attorney firing seen as delaying action

Asahara October 26, 1995
Web posted at: 9:15 a.m. EDT (1315 GMT)

From International Correspondent May Lee

TOKYO (CNN) -- Stranger than fiction is the case involving religious cult Aum Shinri Kyo and its leader, Shoko Asahara. On Thursday the guru charged with murder in connection to the March gas attack on Tokyo subways faced the court -- not to start his long-awaited trial, but to explain his latest action: firing his attorney less than 24 hours before the trial was scheduled to begin.

Asahara lawyer The Japanese have their own interpretations.

"He's doing this because he's a chicken," said one man on the street. "He's trying to delay the trial just to live as long as he can."

camera crew "He's so sly," observed another. "Everyone wants to see the trial to find out the truth, but he's delayed it. It's such an Aum thing to do."

The unexpected dismissal of Shoji Yokoyama came just three days after another bizarre incident involving the attorney. On Sunday Yokoyama was in a car accident and hospitalized. The driver of his car was an Aum Shinri Kyo member.

"I believe maybe the aim of Aum was just to get him in the hospital and postpone trial at least two or three months," speculated another attorney, Kazuo Kawakami.


one man


"Everyone wants to see the trial to find out the truth, but he's delayed it. It's such an Aum thing to do."


--One man's viewpoint


But Yokoyama wasn't injured badly enough to postpone the trial. Many believe that's why Asahara chose to fire him.

If Asahara can't find new legal counsel on his own, the court will appoint one for him. Either way, say court officials, the trial will be delayed for at least a few months.

But once the Asahara murder trial does get under way, legal analysts say, the religious leader's only defense is an insanity plea.

Tokyo police "If he were not able to discern wrong or right, in such a case he will be acquitted," Kawakami said. "But I don't think he's insane. Of course he's abnormal -- that's his nature -- but not insane." (1M QuickTime movie)

It is likely to be five years or more before a verdict is reached in the Asahara trial. More than 1,000 witnesses probably will take the stand, and the court has a mountain of evidence to sort through. To make matters worse, hearings will take place just once a week.

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