Grenoble, France -- A French court cleared Swiss orchestra conductor Michel Tabachnik on Monday of conspiracy to murder charges stemming from his involvement in the Order of the Solar Temple doomsday sect.
Prosecutors had urged the court to jail him for five years for allegedly inciting cult members into suicide pacts. Tabachnik's trial took place in April, but French courts regularly announce their verdicts after a delay of weeks or months.
The trial in Grenoble, in the French Alps, focused mainly on the deaths of 16 sect members -- including three children -- whose charred bodies were found, laid out in a star pattern, in December 1995 in a remote French Alpine forest.
Prosecutors said Tabachnik played a leading role in the sect, whose members believed that "death voyages" by ritualized suicide lead to rebirth on the star Sirius.
Tabachnik, 58, admitted he once had links to the cult but insisted he knew nothing about any of the mass suicides, which led 74 members to their deaths in Europe and Canada between 1994 and 1997.
The sect was founded in the early 1990s by Joseph Di Mambro, a Frenchman, and Luc Jouret, a Swiss national. It is now believed to be dormant. Tabachnik, a specialist in contemporary music, is also a composer. His career has been on hold since he was placed under investigation in 1996. He was not present in Grenoble when the court cleared him.