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Asahara unresponsive to calls from guards, but could walk, eat on own before execution

Chizuo Matsumoto (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- AUM Shinrikyo cult founder and former leader Shoko Asahara, who was executed on July 6 over a series of crimes carried out by the cult, was unresponsive to calls from guards in the years before his execution, though he was able to eat meals by himself and walk at the Tokyo Detention Center, a Justice Ministry source has disclosed.

Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, spent most of his time sitting in his solitary cell at the detention center and occasionally whispered to himself. He received assistance when taking baths. He never responded to calls from guards when they told him he had a visitor.

The Code of Criminal Procedure stipulates that the execution of death row inmates can be suspended on the order of the justice minister if they are mentally insane.

The source said there was no problem with executing Asahara because he was able to distinguish between meeting visitors, exercising and taking baths. "A medical expert regularly examined Asahara, and issued a certificate stating that there was no problem with executing him," the source added.

Asahara's mental condition had been disputed since before the death sentence on him was upheld by the Supreme Court.

After the Tokyo District Court sentenced Asahara to death in February 2004, his defense lawyers chose not to submit a statement of reasons for appeal to the court -- a prerequisite for appeal to a higher court -- on the grounds that they were unable to communicate with their client. They then demanded that the trial of Asahara be suspended on the grounds that he was unfit to stand trial. However, the Tokyo High Court dismissed an appeal against the death sentence in March 2006 because the defendant and his defense counsel had failed to submit the statement.

In its decision, the high court concluded that Asahara was fit to stand trial based on the outcome of a psychiatric evaluation conducted on him at the request of the court.

With regard to the fact that Asahara dozed and made incoherent statements during his district court trial, the appeal court said that he was pretending to be unfit, as it was "inevitable" that the death penalty would be demanded for him.

Noting that Asahara shouted, "Why? Damn it," at the detention center after receiving the death sentence, the high court said, "It was obvious that he was aware of the death sentence."

"It cannot be recognized that he developed mental illness as a result of being detained," the Tokyo High Court concluded in dismissing the appeal against the ultimate penalty.

In the meantime, Asahara's second daughter and others filed a damages suit against the government and other parties, arguing that Asahara did not receive sufficient medical treatment despite showing symptoms of Ganser syndrome caused by detention.

However, the Tokyo District Court dismissed the suit in June 2009, denying that the defendants neglected to provide appropriate medical treatment for Asahara. The ruling was subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court.

(Japanese original by Takeshi Wada, City News Department)

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