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TOKYO - Japanese doomsday guru Shoko Asahara sat silently Friday as his team of 12 lawyers gave closing arguments to wrap up his 71/2 trial for allegedly masterminding the deadly nerve gas attack on Tokyo's subways.

The lawyers argued that Asahara - who could face the death penalty - had lost control over his disciples in the Aum Shinrikyo cult, and that they acted on their own in carrying out the 1995 gassing.

The next court session will be when the three-judge tribunal announces its verdict in mid-February. Asahara, 48, was to be given a final chance to speak at the Tokyo District Court later Friday, but so far during the trial, the nearly blind defendant has kept quiet or occasionally burst into unintelligible ramblings.

In the morning session, the lawyers argued Asahara's innocence in five cases of murder and attempted murder. In one, Asahara allegedly ordered the 1994 torture-slaying of Toshio Tomita, 27, because he believed Tomita was a police spy trying to infiltrate the secretive cult.

Asahara, wearing a navy blue sweat shirt and black pants, appeared unmoved, although he turned around to the gallery at one point and grinned.

The guru is charged with masterminding the sarin gas attack on Tokyo's subway and ordering more than a dozen other killings, resulting in the deaths of 27 people.

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Prosecutors asked that he receive a death sentence. Ten of Asahara's former followers are already on death row, including a senior disciple found guilty Wednesday of helping make the sarin nerve gas used in the subway assault and in a 1994 gassing near a judges' dormitory that killed seven people.

The Aum Shinrikyo claimed 30,000 followers at its height, before the 1995 attack. It continues to exist, with about 1,700 followers, but has been subjected to intense crackdowns. Most of its senior leadership has been jailed.

Twelve people died and thousands of others were sickened in the subway attack by Aum cultists who brought plastic bags of liquid sarin onto the trains in the morning rush hour and then, in at least one case, poked them with umbrellas to release the deadly fumes.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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