Defense: Guru just a figurehead

Aum Shinrikyo founder Chizuo Matsumoto was oblivious to the crimes committed by his murderous followers and is only guilty of having delusions of grandeur, his defense lawyers said Thursday in their closing arguments.

Matsumoto, 48, has been indicted on 13 charges in crimes that left 27 people dead. Prosecutors demanded the death sentence for Matsumoto in April, describing him as “the most heinous criminal in Japanese history.”

But Matsumoto, wearing a gray shirt and dark-gray trousers, appeared bored in the Tokyo District Court as his lawyers tried to defend him.

He fidgeted and then slumped in his seat, prompting a warning from the judge.

His lawyers, meanwhile, produced 814 pages for their closing arguments. They portrayed Matsumoto, also known as Shoko Asahara, as a leader of followers acting on their own.

The lawyers said the 13 crimes blamed on the cult leader were committed without his knowledge, including the 1994 nerve gas attack in Nagano Prefecture that killed seven and a similar assault on Tokyo subways in 1995 that killed 12.

The defense criticized prosecutors for focusing on Matsumoto’s alleged conspiracies with his followers and failing to mention his “positive” religious activities.

The defense said Matsumoto’s determination to cure people led to the formation of Aum Shinrikyo.

Matsumoto was originally an acupuncturist, they said, but he could not eliminate all the ailments in his patients. When he could not find answers on why those diseases recurred, he was so distraught he became mentally unstable, they said.

He then resorted to fortune-telling and other practices to heal people, but as a result of his studies, he believed he had obtained “superhuman abilities,” they said.

Matsumoto then established Aum Shinrikyo in 1987.

Prosecutors said Matsumoto became bitter after a failed attempt to win a Lower House seat in 1990, and later issued orders to eliminate his enemies and prepare for Armageddon, the final battle between the forces of good and evil.

The defense team said Matsumoto never issued such instructions. They also said that when media criticism against Aum escalated in the late 1980s, the followers decided on their own that they had to fight their enemies for the “salvation” of the people.

If the closing arguments conclude today as scheduled, the court will hand down its verdict on Feb. 27 next year.

Thursday’s session was the 255th in the trial that started in April 1996.

Matsumoto’s courtroom behavior has been bizarre at times. He has mumbled in English, yelled at the judge and slept during proceedings.

On Thursday, Matsumoto raised his arms and was restrained by a guard. He then stretched out his legs and slumped in his seat. The judge told Matsumoto to sit up and show “some manners.”

In the crimes tied to Aum, 189 people have been indicted and 10 sentenced to death.

Matsumoto has been silent in most of recent hearings and has refused to talk to his lawyers.

Osamu Watanabe, head of the defense team, said Matsumoto’s silence shows he has given up hope.

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