With a court-appointed psychiatrist declaring Aum Supreme Truth cult founder Chizuo Matsumoto fit to stand trial, his lawyers are expected to revise their tactics, including submitting a statement explaining his appeal.
With their assertions that Matsumoto is mentally incompetent discounted, the defense team is planning to launch an attack on the credibility of the examination.
It is almost certain, however, that the Tokyo High Court will rule Matsumoto fit to stand trial, based on the psychiatric examination.
If a defendant is declared mentally incompetent, lawyers can make legal decisions on his or her behalf. However, if the defendant is capable of understanding the proceedings and expressing their will to a certain degree, he is judged to be competent.
In the case of Matsumoto, who does not suffer from schizophrenia, the question was over whether he was unable to communicate with his lawyers because of a reaction to his time in prison, or whether he was just feigning mental illness.
There had been no disputes between the prosecution and defense over the fact that Matsumoto developed some reaction to incarceration.
It is common that a mild reaction to prison life coincides with a staged illness. One criterion used to decide the legitimacy of the alleged mental illness is whether there are changes in the defendant’s attitude depending on with whom he is dealing. This has proved extremely difficult with Matsumoto, however, as he has remained silent.
In the Japanese criminal justice system, there are very few cases in which a person has been ruled unfit to stand trial for this type of ailment.
Defendants who received a ruling in their favor had exhibited particularly strong signs of psychological trauma, showing evidence of being delusional.
Psychiatrist Akira Nishiyama was believed to have diagnosed Matsumoto with only slight prison trauma, emphasizing the fact he had given meaningful testimony in the trials of other cult leaders, though he repeatedly made strange, incomprehensible statements.
The psychiatrist added that he did not show any signs of serious trouble with life in prison, such as delusional behavior.
Split opinion over coherency
Almost 10 years have passed since Matsumoto was put into solitary confinement at the Tokyo Detention House.
Reports on Matsumoto’s health and living conditions come from the detention facility and the lawyers who interview him.
It was in late July 2004 when the defense team for Matsumoto’s appeal first met with the Aum leader.
During the interview, Matsumoto said nothing as he sat there, legs crossed, groaning and occasionally grinning, according to the lawyers.
Matsumoto’s children have visited him repeatedly since the summer of 2004. “He looks at us as if we aren’t even there,” one of them said.
In December of that year, Tokyo High Court presiding judge Masaru Suda visited the cult founder to explain the proceedings for his appeal.
Suda recalls that Matsumoto nodded along with his explanation and seemed to acknowledge others in attendance and understand the content of the discussion.
But according to a report by the Tokyo Detention House, on the night when the Tokyo District Court sentenced him to death in February 2004, Matsumoto screamed, “Damn you!” from his isolation cell.
In the fall of 2004, during exercise time, he pretended to pitch a ball, making a comment which apparently referred to a pitch made by the main character in a once popular manga.