The date for an appeal trial of Aum Supreme Truth cult founder Chizuo Matsumoto, 49, also known as Shoko Asahara, has not yet been decided, even though four months have passed since Matsumoto was sentenced to death by the Tokyo District Court, because he has refused to meet with new lawyers.
The records from the first trial were sent to the Tokyo High Court, which is handling the appeal, with unusual speed. The stalled trial procedures have upset victims and family members of victims of the cult.
The first trial at the Tokyo District Court took seven years and 10 months to reach a ruling on the case, producing about 55,000 pages of trial records.
Usually, after a ruling is handed down, it takes a period of time for the first trial records, which have to be classified into evidence material, investigators’ records of oral statements and experts’ opinions to be sent to the higher court.
It took 14 months for the trial records on Seiichi Endo, a former senior cult member, to be sent to a higher court, and nine months for Yoshihiro Inoue’s trial records to reach a higher court.
Endo, who was sentenced to death, has appealed to a higher court, and Inoue has appealed his death sentence to the Supreme Court.
Despite Matsumoto’s case producing a greater volume of trial records, they were sent to the Tokyo High Court only two months after the Tokyo District Court ruling because it reportedly sorted out the documents before the case was ruled on.
But trial procedures have come to a standstill since the transfer of the trial records to the high court.
Under criminal procedure rules, after receiving the trial records, a high court must give the appellant a date as soon as possible for the submission of a statement on reasons for appeal.
The high court has yet to set a date for the hearing due to Matsumoto’s refusal to see his lawyers.
Matsumoto’s lawyers said they were not in a situation to plan the statement as it was necessary to talk to Matsumoto to map out defense strategies.
They also said that it was too early to schedule a day for the submission of the statement, referring to a recent trend encouraging speedy trials.
There is no question that time is needed as it took between 19 months and three years to start the appeal trials by other former senior cult leaders, who were sentenced to death by the district court.
But a veteran judge took issue with Matsumoto’s refusal to meet with his lawyers during the first trial.
“It was expected that he wouldn’t see his lawyers for his appeal. This shouldn’t be the reason they can’t write the statement,” he said, adding that if the lawyers were incapable of submitting the statement, the court should use its power to consider court-appointed lawyers for Matsumoto.
But court-appointed lawyers are usually only named when a defendant cannot hire lawyers for himself.