Man sentenced to death over 2019 Kyoto Animation arson attack

Man sentenced to death over fatal 2019 Kyoto Animation arson attack
Photo credit: Pixabay

A Japanese court on Thursday sentenced Shinji Aoba to death for a 2019 arson attack at a Kyoto Animation Co. studio that killed 36 people in one of Japan's worst-ever mass murders, Kyodo reported.

Aoba, 45, earlier admitted to lighting the blaze at the animation firm's premises in Kyoto, western Japan, on July 18, 2019. In addition to the deaths, 32 employees were injured in the inferno.

As the defendant confessed to his role in the incident, the focus of the trial at the Kyoto District Court was on whether he could be declared mentally competent and thus held criminally responsible.

Presiding Judge Keisuke Masuda said Aoba was "not in a state of mental incompetence or diminished capacity" at the time.

Aoba had told the court he was motivated to carry out the attack under the belief that Kyoto Animation had plagiarized a novel he had entered into a contest run by the firm.

His defense had argued Aoba was suffering from delusions, as the defendant also said he believed he was fighting back against a "dark figure."

While the judge recognized Aoba suffered from a delusional disorder, he said the defendant's conduct was little affected by delusions.

Prosecutors had demanded the death penalty for Aoba, saying his delusions had a limited impact on his behavior and did not constitute a reason to refrain from handing down the maximum sentence. The defense argued he was mentally incompetent at the time of the attack and sought an acquittal or a lesser sentence.

Aoba apologized to the bereaved for the first time on Dec. 6. but he also maintained his assertions the firm copied his novel.

On the day of the sentencing, Aoba entered court in a wheelchair pushed by a prison officer, his face and neck showing red scars caused by burns he sustained in the fire. He remained seated when bowing with others present at the start of court proceedings.

When asked if he had anything to say before the court announced his sentence, an emotionless Aoba said he did not.

The high-profile trial attracted 409 members of the public who queued outside the courtroom amid snowy conditions to secure tickets to observe proceedings.

Kyoto Animation, often referred to as "KyoAni," is known worldwide for producing hit anime works including "K-On!" and "The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya."

According to the ruling, Aoba entered the firm's Studio 1 at around 10:30 a.m. and lit the blaze using gasoline. There were 70 employees in the building at the time.

The trial began last September, more than four years after the incident, as Aoba sustained life-threatening burns and needed to undergo intense treatment and rehabilitation.

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