Lawyers for AUM cult founder Asahara miss appeal deadline

Tokyo, Japan - Defense lawyers for AUM Shinrikyo cult founder Shoko Asahara missed the Wednesday deadline to submit a document stating the reason for appealing the death penalty.

Asahara's defense team had been asked to submit the document to the Tokyo High Court by Wednesday, but it was not.

The defense lawyers have said they cannot submit it because they cannot communicate with Asahara, 50.

The failure to submit the document would lead to finalizing the death sentence handed down on him by the Tokyo District Court on Feb. 27 last year.

But the high court is expected to postpone any decision to reject the appeal until it obtains the results of a psychiatric exam and hear expert opinion on whether Asahara is competent to stand trial.

The psychiatric exam is expected to take several months.

If the high court concludes from the psychiatric exam that Asahara is competent and if the defense team does not submit the document by the time the result of the exam is known, the high court is highly likely to dismiss the appeal.

The defense team made a second request July 29 to suspend the trial until Asahara's mental state improves and asked the high court to extend the deadline for the submission of the document on the appeal.

But the high court rejected the request to suspend the trial on Aug. 19, saying it believes Asahara is competent to stand trial. It also decided to conduct a psychiatric exam.

Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was sentenced to death for his role in 13 criminal cases, including the fatal sarin nerve gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system in 1995.

AUM has renamed itself Aleph.