While prosecutors condemned Chizuo Matsumoto, founder of the Aum Supreme Truth group, as the mastermind of a series of crimes committed by Aum members in which a total of 27 people were killed, defense lawyers claimed that Matsumoto’s followers got out of hand in committing the crimes, including the deadly 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.
But Matsumoto’s silence denied the defense team the information they needed to build a convincing case in the final hearing of Matsumoto’s trial, held at the Tokyo District Court on Thursday and Friday.
The trial concluded Friday after 7 years, and the court is scheduled to hand down a ruling on Feb. 27.
In their closing arguments, prosecutors described the 48-year-old Matsumoto, also known as Shoko Asahara, as “the most atrocious criminal ever.” Defense lawyers said he was “a truly religious figure.”
The defense lawyers contended that, at the peak of his powers, Matsumoto had about 14,000 followers and that religious scholars both in and outside the country once gave him high praise for being “an excellent ascetic.” They went on to say that Matsumoto’s religious thought was “based on traditional Buddhism and yoga and developed through the disciplines and studies of sacred books.” They said his philosophy was “not a dangerous one.”
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Prosecutors countered that they considered Matsumoto “a person possessed of an abnormally strong lust for power.” They argued that Matsumoto was dissatisfied with being a mere yoga instructor and came to have a strong desire to control other people as membership numbers increased at the Aum Shinsen-no-kai–the predecessor of the Aum Supreme Truth group. He attempted to increase his authority and power through religious practices, they said.
As for the disciplines and studies of sacred writings favorably mentioned by the defense lawyers, the prosecutors argued that those practices were “only used to disguise the real Matsumoto, who was actually filled with mean desires as the head of a religious sect.”
Since making judgements on Matsumoto’s personality is seen as the starting point of tracing the development of the series of crimes, how they will be taken into account in the court ruling is a focal point.
Regarding the motives for the series of crimes, defense lawyers said senior Aum members developed defiant attitudes and a siege mentality as criticism of the group mounted.
The lawyers said the senior members, who misinterpreted Matsumoto’s doctrine as allowing even murders, devised “realistic countermeasures against antagonistic forces,” such as parents who wanted their children to quit the cult. The lawyers asserted Matsumoto’s innocence, saying he was unable to put the senior members under his control because his health had deteriorated and the power of senior members had grown as a result of an expansion of the cult organization.
But the prosecutors contended that the crimes were committed because Matsumoto was deeply afraid that his deceptions, which included the improper use of religious thoughts and practices for the purpose of his deification, might be exposed. They asserted that the series of crimes were targeted at those who criticized his deceptions.
The prosecutors said the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack and another in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, the previous year, were carried out because he came to have a fierce hatred for society after he was devastatingly defeated in the general election of February 1990. They said he wanted to build and reign over the “nation of Aum” by killing most of the people in this country.
Matsumoto did not utter a word on motives for the crimes during the trial. The court will likely have to make judgements on the motives for the crimes–a subject of close interest to the public–based on testimony by his followers and little other evidence.
Whether Matsumoto conspired with his followers will be the key for the court to determine whether he is guilty.
The defense lawyers said in the closing arguments that statements made in court by his followers admitting to the involvement of Matsumoto lacked credibility.
The lawyers attacked Kazuaki Okazaki, 43, who is accused of being involved in the murder of lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family, saying he repeatedly made false confessions in an attempt to mitigate his criminal liability. Regarding the testimony of Yoshihiro Inoue, 33, who reproduced the conspiracy talks believed to have been held two days before the Tokyo sarin attack, the lawyers said they were inconsistent with the statements of other defendants.
But the prosecutors said Matsumoto’s interference in court procedures, such as making unapproved statements during the testimonies of Okazaki and Inoue and calling for an end to their questioning, indicated the extent to which the statements of the followers were reliable.
The rulings on Aum members who actually carried out the crimes, including Okazaki and Inoue, all acknowledged that Matsumoto had instructed them to commit the crimes. It is likely that the February court ruling will conclude that Matsumoto and his followers conspired to commit the crimes, as the prosecutors claimed.