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A former Aum Shinrikyo cult member convicted of killing a fellow cultist in 1994 testified Friday that cult founder Shoko Asahara started behaving as if he were a god toward the end of the 1980s.

During the 113th session of Asahara’s trial at the Tokyo District Court, Hideaki Yasuda, 31, said that during his time in the cult between 1987 and 1992, the guru’s behavior gradually changed.

“I was able to talk to him (Asahara) as an equal in the beginning,” Yasuda said in response to a question from Asahara’s defense team. “Later, he began to behave like a god to the followers, and I found it difficult talking to him and had few chances to see him.

“Behaving as if he was absolutely right and understood everything, he stopped listening to what we said.”

Yasuda strangled Kotaro Ochida, 29, with a rope on Jan. 30, 1994, in front of Asahara and other cult members at an Aum facility in Kamikuishiki, Yamanashi Prefecture.

Asahara, wearing a blue sweat suit, murmured to himself and seemed to have problems sitting on a courtroom bench because of his hemorrhoids. During the afternoon session, he was given a cushion by the court.

Replying to defense questioning on why Yasuda did not report the murder and seek help from the police until his arrest in June 1995, Yasuda said he was too afraid that he was being watched by the cult.

“There was no guarantee that police would trust my story that I killed Ochida and put me under their custody,” he explained. “Under such a situation, if the cult had learned that I had gone to police, they would have tried to kill me.”

The district court sentenced Yasuda to three years in prison, suspended for five years, in June 1996. Although he appealed to a higher court one month later, he withdrew his appeal this February.

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