IMAGE: Shoko Asahara
Afp  /  AFP - Getty Images
This file photo from October 1990 shows Shoko Asahara, the leader of a doomsday cult in Japan, who has been sentenced to death.
updated 9/15/2006 6:54:36 AM ET 2006-09-15T10:54:36

Japan’s Supreme Court on Friday upheld the death sentence of doomsday cult founder Shoko Asahara for the 1995 nerve-gas attack on Tokyo’s subways, a court official said.

Asahara was convicted in 2004 of masterminding the attack, in which his followers released sarin nerve gas on crowded commuter trains in Tokyo’s government district, killing 12 and injuring thousands.

Naoki Katayama, a court spokesman, declined to say whether the ruling would definitely lead to Asahara’s execution by hanging.

National broadcaster NHK and Kyodo News agency, however, said the decision had closed Asahara’s final avenue for challenging his death sentence. Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Jinen Nagase called the decision “appropriate.”

The Tokyo High Court threw out an appeal in March after Asahara’s lawyers missed an application deadline. The lawyers claimed they missed the deadline because Asahara was mentally unstable and unable to express to them his wishes regarding his own defense.

The Supreme Court on Friday rejected Asahara’s lawyers’ objections to that March ruling.

Asahara’s mental health has been frequently raised by the defense.

Ruled competent to stand trial
The blind former leader, who once commanded a powerful group with about 40,000 members, often mumbled incoherently during his eight-year trial, interrupting sessions with bizarre outbursts in gibberish or broken English. His lawyers say they have never been able to carry out a coherent discussion with their client.

But last month, a court-appointed psychiatrist found Asahara could be feigning mental illness, and said he is competent to stand trial.

Lawyers claimed both the high court’s March decision to throw out the appeal and the mental evaluation were improper.

Asahara has been convicted in several other killings, including a 1994 gas attack in the central Japanese city of Matsumoto that killed seven people and the kidnapping and murder of an anti-cult lawyer and his family.

About a dozen other Aum Shinrikyo cult leaders have been sentenced to death, but none have been executed. Most of their cases have appeals pending.

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