Matsumoto's defense team makes final argument

Yomiuri Shimbun/October 31, 2003

Defense lawyers for Chizuo Matsumoto, founder of the Aum Supreme Truth cult, in their closing arguments Thursday asserted their client's innocence in relation to charges connected to a series of crimes committed by members of the cult, including the deadly 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.

In the closing argument session, which started at 10 a.m. at Tokyo District Court, the defense insisted that Matsumoto did not take any principal role in the series of crimes committed by his followers and refuted the prosecutors' claims. "It's hardly possible that the defendant, who is a genuine religious figure, instructed them (Aum cultists) to commit the crimes," lawyers for Matsumoto said.

Matsumoto, 48, also known as Shoko Asahara, has been indicted on 13 charges, including charges related to another sarin gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in 1994 and the murder of anti-Aum lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family in 1989.

Presentation of the defense's 814-page closing argument is expected to last through Friday afternoon. The presentation will mark the end of arguments in the guru's 7-1/2-year trial, and a ruling is expected to be handed down on Feb. 27.

In April, the prosecutors demanded the death penalty for the former cult leader for his role in the cult's crimes, claiming he had commanded his followers to carry out the illegal acts.

In response to this, the defense said in its closing argument that Matsumoto did not bear criminal responsibility as none of the crimes had anything to do with him or his religious doctrines, but were merely committed by some of his followers.

The defense also tried to portray Matsumoto as "a genuine religious leader who was highly recognized by religious scholars or other religious figures at home and abroad,"and then stated he was responsible as a religious leader and a guru, only in a moral sense. Further, the defense pointed out that some Aum members had gone too far in trying to protect the cult against those who were hostile to it as public criticism became increasingly severe around 1998.

The defense selected sections of the closing argument to read in court, and 11 lawyers took turns reading them aloud.

Prior to presenting the closing arguments, the defense lawyers met Matsumoto at the Tokyo Detention House on Wednesday and informed him of the main points of the defense argument. One of the lawyers reportedly said, "Matsumoto seemed to understand the arguments, but gave no response."

Matsumoto was initially indicted on 17 charges, but prosecutors reduced the number of charges in January 1998 in a bid to streamline the trial process.

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