The Asahi Shimbun (Japan), Mar. 3, 2003
Prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Aum Shinrikyo founder Chizuo Matsumoto when they present final arguments April 24 on his role in two deadly nerve-gas attacks and other crimes, sources said.
Matsumoto, also known as Shoko Asahara, faces 27 murder counts in 13 separate indictments, including the March 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system that left 12 people dead and thousands sickened.
The last of 12 witnesses for the defense presented his testimony to the Tokyo District Court on Friday.
Defense witnesses have not swayed prosecutors from their belief that Matsumoto masterminded the sarin attacks and other crimes, including the kidnapping and murder of anti-Aum lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family, according to sources close to prosecutors.
Matsumoto’s next scheduled court appearance is March 13 and the defense team desperately hopes he will testify, although it looks doubtful. Since the defense lawyers have failed to establish solid grounds of communication with their client, court sources said they will likely be allowed three court sessions to try to convince Matsumoto to respond to questions.
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If Matsumoto refuses, the court most probably will call an end to the defense case and allow prosecutors to state what punishment they are seeking.
In a rare instance, Matsumoto addressed the court in April 1997 in a case involving an attack on a man using highly toxic VX gas. He contended his offense in that crime should have been listed as ordinary assault rather than attempted murder.
Matsumoto has maintained his innocence throughout. He last addressed the court in January 1998.
Prosecutors have repeatedly cast Matsumoto as an evil guru who intimidated his followers.
Under a revision to the criminal procedure law, about 10 victims of Aum-inspired attacks as well as bereaved family members will be asked later this month to present their opinions. This, the sources said, would help prosecutors strengthen their case for the severest form of punishment possible.