Japanese man sentenced to death in anime arson trial, Latest World News - The New Paper

Japanese man sentenced to death in anime arson trial

KYOTO – A Japanese court on Jan 25 sentenced to death the perpetrator of a 2019 arson attack on an animation studio that killed 36 people, local media reported.

The arson attack 4½ years ago at the studios of Kyoto Animation was Japan’s deadliest crime in decades, stunning the anime industry and its fans around the world.

Shinji Aoba, now 45, broke into the building, spread gasoline around the ground floor, lit it and shouted “drop dead” on the morning of July 18, 2019, survivors said.

Many of those killed were young, including a 21-year-old woman.

“It is going to be a guilty verdict, but I will deliver the main line at the end,” the chief judge said earlier on Jan 25, according to public broadcaster NHK.

A number of victims were found on a stairwell to the roof, suggesting they were overcome as they desperately tried to escape.

“There was a person who jumped from the second floor... but we couldn’t rush to help because the fire was so strong,” one woman told local media at the time. “It was like I was looking at hell.”

More than 30 others were injured, with firefighters calling the incident “unprecedented” and saying that rescuing people trapped inside was “extremely difficult”.

Aoba, who was arrested near the scene, faced five charges, including murder, attempted murder and arson, and prosecutors sought capital punishment in the high-profile trial.

His lawyers entered a plea of not guilty, saying he “did not have the capacity to distinguish between good and bad and to stop committing the crime due to a mental disorder”.

But on Jan 25, the judge ruled that Aoba was “neither insane nor suffering diminished mental capacity at the time of the crime”, NHK reported.

Inside the courtroom packed with family members of the victims, one person cried and covered their eyes as the judge spoke, the broadcaster reported.

Later, the court handed down a sentence of capital punishment, local media reported.

“I didn’t think so many people would die, and now I think I went too far,” Aoba told the Kyoto District Court when the trial opened in September 2023, media reports said at the time.

Aoba had a “delusion” that the studio known by its fans as KyoAni stole his ideas, prosecutors said, a claim the company has denied.

He suffered burns in the fire covering 90 per cent of his body and reportedly needed 12 operations.

He regained consciousness weeks later and was said to have sobbed with relief after undergoing a procedure that restored his ability to speak.

For families of those who died, the pain of their loss remains excruciating to this day.

“I should have told her not to go to work that morning,” the mother of 49-year-old Naomi Ishida told the Mainichi Shimbun daily this week.

“Even if he gets the death penalty, Naomi and others won’t come back. I feel empty,” said the woman, whose husband died a month before the first hearing. – AFP