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Lawyers for Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara on Friday quizzed a former senior cultist about events leading up to the November 1989 murders of a Yokohama lawyer and his family, claiming that the order to kill had not come from Asahara himself.

Kiyohide Hayakawa, 48, who is accused of several charges, including the slayings of anti-Aum lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife and their 1-year-old son, was questioned by Asahara’s defense counsel for the second day.

During the morning session, the lawyers tried to prove that Asahara, 42, did not order his disciples to kill the family but that the cultists misinterpreted Asahara’s words and acted on their own.

Prosecutors believe that Asahara summoned Hayakawa and four others to his room in the cult’s complex in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka Prefecture, on the night of Nov. 2, 1989, and ordered them to kill Sakamoto by beating him and then injecting him with a lethal chemical.

Hayakawa conceded that specific details — such as the time the cultists would go to Sakamoto’s house and the methods they would later use to dispose of the lawyer’s body — were not discussed that night.

One of Asahara’s lawyers asked, “How can you kill a person without deciding such (important) things?”

Hayakawa replied that the details were hazy at the time, but stood by his claim that there was no one else who could order the cult members to “phowa” the lawyer.

The word “phowa” is a religious term believed to be transliterated from Sanskrit and usually refers to raising human souls to a higher stage. Asahara is alleged to have used the word in ordering the murders of several people, including Sakamoto.

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