TOKYO, Dec. 11 -- Two doomsday cult members pleaded guilty and begged forgiveness Monday at the start of the first trial of followers suspected of unleashing the deadly nerve gas sarin on Tokyo's crowded subway system earlier this year. Toru Toyoda, 27, and Kenichi Hirose, 31, showed remorse and confessed to their roles in the March 20 attack that killed 12 people and made about 5,000 others ill during the morning rush hour in the Japanese capital. Prosecutors said the two men and three other followers of the Aum Shinri Kyo cult released the fatal fumes by poking sharpened umbrella tips into plastic bags containing the gas as they rode on five subway trains. Police allege Aum Shinri Kyo members staged the attack in an effort to topple the Japanese government. On Monday, a repentant Toyoda delivered a 40-minute opening statement in Tokyo District Court during which he said: 'My guilty conscience is growing.... All I can do now is to help clear up the facts about the case.' Toyoda also fingered cult guru Shoko Asahara, 40, as the man who masterminded and ordered the lethal operation. Asahara, considered the prime suspect, is charged with murder and attempted murder. He also faces the death penalty, but the start of his trial has been delayed because he has twice fired his defense lawyer. Hirose read a similar statement, admitting he had been misled by the sect's teachings. 'Time has passed and I now know the contradictions in the (sect's) teachings.
I probably cannot do penance for what I did,' Hirose said. Police have more than 100 sect followers in custody, either already on trial or awaiting court hearings, for their roles in a plot that prosecutors believe was executed with such precision sect members actually manufactured the sarin gas from scratch. In October, Japanese television reported Asahara had confessed 'everything.' But Asahara's lawyer said his client was forced into giving the confession by Japanese special police who threatened to invoke an anti-subversive law that would have destroyed the group.