Aum head's trial enters 150th hearing


Yomiuri Shimbun, March 24, 2000

The Tokyo District Court on Thursday held its 150th hearing in the trial of Aum Supreme Truth cult founder Chizuo Matsumoto, who is suspected of participating in 17 crimes.

Fees paid to Matsumoto's 12 court-appointed defense lawyers totaled about 260 million yen as of December, when the court held its 141st hearing. The district court has concluded trials on a number of Aum followers who participated in the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995.

According to observers, however, there has been little progress in the trial of Matsumoto, 45, also known as Shoko Asahara, and it remains unclear when his trial will end.

Victims of Aum crimes and bereaved family members have expressed a strong desire to speed up the pace of the trial. Long cross-examination

Although four years have passed since Matsumoto's trial began in April 1996, procedures have begun in only 11 of the 17 charges for which he has been indicted.

It has been pointed out that one of the reasons for the delay are the detailed cross-examinations of witnesses by Matsumoto's lawyers. Prosecutors spent about four hours questioning Yoshihiro Inoue, 30, who was summoned as a witness in a case involving the use of highly poisonous VX gas. However, the defense spent nearly 17 hours cross-examining the witness. The lawyers spent about 47 hours cross-examining Kazuaki Okazaki, 39, over his role in the murder of Yokohama lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife and son, over the course of 10 hearings.

They also spent about 36 hours cross-examining Yasuo Hayashi, 42, over his alleged role in the 1995 gas attack over the course of 11 hearings. Although Presiding Judge Fumihiro Abe has often objected to their questioning claiming that some of their questions are unrelated, the lawyers would argue that their questions were necessary.

Masumoto's lawyers deny that their prolonged cross-examinations, which have caused numerous delays, are intended to buy time during the trial. Refusal to meet lawyers

Since 1997, Matsumoto has refused to meet with his lawyers at the detention house where he is being held. Although he meets with them in court, few, if any, words are exchanged.

Matsumoto has often begun to murmur incomprehensible words in the midst of witness questioning and Abe has frequently ordered him to remain silent. It is also common for Matsumoto to fall asleep on the witness stand.

The court has appointed 12 attorneys as government-appointed lawyers for Matsumoto, 11 of whom have been representing him since last March. About 260 million yen has been paid to the lawyers as of the 141st session in December last year.

A total of 135 lawyers were appointed as government-appointed lawyers for the 67 Aum members indicted for participating in the cult's series of crimes. Lawyers' fees reached a total of about 440 million yen, 60 percent of which were used to cover Matsumoto's legal fees. Opposing testimony

In an unprecedented move, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office in December 1997 dismissed evidence concerning most of the 3,938 victims who were injured in sarin gas attacks in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, and on the Tokyo subway system.

To speed up court procedures, prosecutors selected 18 victims whose injuries have yet to be proven.

Because Matsumoto and his lawyers have objected to having victims' testimonies given to police recognized as evidence, prosecutors have little choice but to question victims in court to prove that they had been injured as a result of the cult's activities.

However, an indeterminable length of time will be required if prosecutors must summon all victims to court.

But 21/4 years after the drastic decision made by prosecutors, victims of the two sarin attacks and their bereaved family members have yet to be questioned.

This is because Matsumoto's lawyers oppose questioning victims and bereaved family members, claiming that their questioning should taken place after facts were proven.

Some victims who were removed from the court hearings protested the delay. "Although we were excused from attending court hearings (to speed up the trial), we are skeptical of the situation as we do not know when the trial will end," one of them said.


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