One by one, prosecutors read aloud the names of 3,796 people injured in last year's nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subways. The widow of one of the 11 who died, a stationmaster who pulled a poison-gas container from a train, sobbed quietly in the courtroom.
After the solemn six-hour recitation today, the accused mastermind of the attack, Shoko Asahara, entered no plea on the first day of his trial. Instead, the bearded and nearly blind cult guru, who claims to be Christ, gave an unintelligible speech about "absolute truth, absolute freedom and absolute happiness."
"I pity those who do not know the truth," he said in a soft, high voice. "I have no concern about things like lack of freedom, and pain."
Asahara, who faces death by hanging if convicted, wore a baggy blue prison uniform as he stood before the four-judge panel. The judges rejected his request that he be allowed to wear a white religious robe, signifying his leadership of the Aum Supreme Truth cult. Asahara, who once presided over an empire worth more than $1 billion and rode around in a Rolls-Royce, was led into the courtroom by a rope around his waist, wearing handcuffs.
In his first public comment since the March 1995 subway attack, Asahara rejected his given name, Chizuo Matsumoto, and insisted on being called Asahara, the name recognized by his cult followers, who once numbered more than 10,000.
Asked to answer to Matsumoto, he said: "I abandoned that name." Asked his address, he said: "I don't remember." And asked to make his plea to murder charges, he told the judge: "I won't speak."
Asahara, 41, is charged with a total of 17 crimes, including the murders of an anti-cult lawyer, his wife and their year-old son and manufacturing LSD. Under Japan's system, trials are held for one day a month, but Asahara is due in court Thursday for an unusual back-to-back session.
There is no jury system in Japan, and most cases are heard by a three-judge panel. But because of the extraordinary complexity of the Aum case, four judges are considering the evidence against Asahara, whose trial could take years.
Asahara was driven to court in a police bus surrounded by police vehicles from the detention center where he is being held. Major highways were blocked during the morning and evening rush hours.
At least nine helicopters, rented by media organizations, circled over the downtown courthouse. Television stations broke into their programming throughout the day to broadcast live updates.