Defense lawyers for Chizuo Matsumoto, founder of the Aum Supreme Truth cult, criticized the prosecution’s case Thursday at the Tokyo District Court for ignoring their client’s status as religious leader.
“The prosecution’s argument completely ignores the fact that the defendant is a religious figure,” said Osamu Watanabe, head of Matsumoto’s defense counsel, at the 255th hearing of the 7 year-long trial.
Watanabe started reading out the defense team’s 814-page closing arguments, while Matsumoto, also known as Shoko Asahara, remained silent in front of them.
The defense lawyers have been unable to communicate with their client, even though the end of the trial is approaching.
Shortly before 10 a.m., Matsumoto, wearing a gray sweat shirt and pants, entered the court with uncertain steps. Two guards walked in front and behind him.
The cult leader sat in the dock and suddenly looked up, saying “Umm-hmm” twice with his right arm flung up, but then leaned back against the seat with his arms folded in front of him.
All 96 seats in the public gallery were full. Victims of Aum-related incidents as well as Matsumoto’s followers were present, but the defendant did not look at them.
After a while, his defense team of 11 lawyers came into the court and sat down behind Matsumoto, but he did not respond to their arrival.
The reading of the closing arguments began at about 10:10 a.m. Watanabe pointed out the alleged problems related to the investigation and prosecution, saying, “They abandoned efforts to clarify why a legitimate religious group had committed crimes.”
Matsumoto, meanwhile, mumbled softly and scratched his head. Only when the defense lawyer referred to the teachings of the Aum Supreme Truth cult did he show his teeth, as if to smile.
Guards sitting on both sides of him warned him over his attitude when Matsumoto stretched out his legs.
Demand for the 45 seats available in the public gallery for the hearing was high, with 377 people lining up to get tickets.
Among them was Hiroyuki Nagaoka, 65, leader of a group of victims of Aum-related incidents.
“The attitudes of other Aum defendants have gradually changed as they attended the trials, but Matsumoto hasn’t changed at all,” he said.
Cult leader uncommunicative
Matsumoto’s trial has been a stormy affair.
The first trial that was scheduled to be held in October 1995 was postponed after Matsumoto fired his chosen lawyer the day before the first hearing.
Since then, the defense team has been selected by the government, and the trial opened in April 1996.
Matsumoto initially was responsive in interviews with his lawyers. However, in October 1996, Matsumoto became hostile to his defense team as the group forcibly questioned a cult member against Matsumoto’s wishes.
Since then, Matsumoto has refused to be interviewed by his lawyers.
In March 1997, the lawyers boycotted a hearing as they claimed that holding hearings four times a month did not give them sufficient preparation time.
In April 1997, Matsumoto made a statement for the first time in which he proclaimed his innocence. He spoke at a hearing in January 1998 in which he again maintained his innocence, but his speech was garbled and mixed with English words. He has not spoken publicly since.
Between March and April this year, the defense team tried to encourage Matsumoto to speak by asking him questions in turn, but he remained silent throughout.
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