A Strategy?: Ex-Aum leader silent to the end

The Asahi Shimbun/April 11, 2003

The case mercifully nears its conclusion.

Former Aum Shinrikyo leader Chizuo Matsumoto made one of his final appearances Thursday at the Tokyo District Court, still maintaining his silence.

Thursday was his 253rd hearing-the last evidentiary session-for him. But Matsumoto, 48, said nary a word in response to questions from his defense lawyers.

Aum, held responsible for the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that left 12 dead, and other crimes, has renamed itself "Aleph.''

At the next hearing April 24, prosecutors are expected to seek the death penalty for Matsumoto, who adopted the name Shoko Asahara when he ran Aum, sources said.

At Thursday's hearing, family members of those killed when Aum members released sarin gas in two locations demanded the former guru and alleged mastermind be given the ultimate sanction.

During his seven-year trial which began in April 1996, Matsumoto has been indicted on 27 murder counts covering 13 separate cases.

The charges include two cases of indiscriminate mass murder using sarin nerve gas.

A year before the sarin attack in Tokyo, an Aum squad released nerve gas in the city of Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture. Seven people died and about 140 people were injured.

At the afternoon session Thursday, Matsumoto's nine lawyers spent three hours asking questions and getting no answers. The session degenerated into farce when one of the lawyers, noticing Matsumoto yawning, asked, "When I asked you a question, you yawned twice. Was the yawning your way of telling me, `Don't ask such stupid questions'?''

Maybe so, but we'll never know. Matsumoto didn't answer that question either.

Matsumoto began giving the court the silent treatment after he "testified'' at a hearing for one of his followers in November 1999.

In an April 1997 hearing, he pleaded innocent to charges in 16 of 17 criminal acts allegedly committed by Aum.

Charges in four of the 17 cases have since been dropped.

Meanwhile, family members of those killed expressed their feelings at Thursday's morning session.

Kazue Nakagoshi, 64, who lost her husband in the Tokyo subway attack, said, "The founder Asahara (Matsumoto) robbed an ordinary citizen of her tiny happiness. I will never pardon you. Death sentence to you.''

Her oldest daughter Maki, 32, said, "As I lost my beloved father, I am going to take part in this trial until the last. But I want to see the result as soon as possible."

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