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Japan Doomsday Cult Member’s Murder Trial Starts

TOKYO -- A famed former member of the notorious Japanese doomsday cult that carried out the 1995 Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, faced trial Thursday almost 19-years after going on the run.

Once one of the country’s most wanted men, Makoto Hirata evaded authorities for 17-years until he handed himself in on New Year’s Eve 2011. He faces the death penalty if convicted for his role in the murder of a Kiyoshi Kariya, who had rescued his sister from the infamous Aum Shinrikyo cult.

Prosecutors allege the 48-year-old served as a driver and a watchman when Kariya was kidnapped by the cult. Kariya died of a drug overdose after members injected him with an anesthetic to get him to talk about his sister, who had escaped from the group.

Hirata also denied any knowledge about the setting up of an explosive device at the home of an academic who was offering favorable opinions about the group at the time, in a bid to mislead the police. A ruling is expected in March.

Hirata is not accused of playing any part in the deadly subway attacks that killed 13 and injured 6,000 in what remains Japan's deadliest act of domestic terrorism.

When police raided their compound shortly after that attack they found the cult had amassed an arsenal of chemical, biological and conventional weapons in anticipation of an apocalyptic showdown with the government.

Over 30 former cult members have been tried and 13 have been sentenced to death, including their leader Shoko Asahara.