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Updated January 25th, 2024 at 21:49 IST

Shinji Aoba, Arsonist Responsible for Attack on Kyoto Animation that Killed 36, Sentenced to Death

A Kyoto court sentenced Aoba to death for his Kyoto Animation arson attack after finding that he was mentally fit to face punishment for his crimes.

Reported by: Digital Desk
The 2019 Kyoto Animation fire that killed 36.
The 2019 Kyoto Animation fire that killed 36. | Image:AP
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TOKYO: The Kyoto District Court, on Thursday, sentenced a man to death after finding him mentally fit to face punishment for one of Japan's most prolific and deadliest mass murders. Shinji Aoba, now 45, had carried out an arson attack targeting Kyoto Animation's No.1 studio on July 18, 2019. Aoba reportedly stormed the studio, splashed petrol using a can and then set a fire on the ground floor of the studio. The attack ultimately killed 36 and injured several others. Investigators later reported that many of the victims had succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning. Aoba himself suffered around 90 per cent burns from the fire and was only taken into custody when he gained conciousness several days later. 

The attack shocked the nation of Japan, being one of the deadliest mass murders in the nation's history. The impact of the attack was particulary pronounced given that Aoba had targeted one of Japan's most beloved animation studios, responsible for animation works like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya which found a dedicated audience across the world. The attack killed more than half of Kyoto Animation studio's 70 man workforce and nearly forced the iconic studio to shut down. So impactful was this news that the likes of Apple's Tim Cook and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took to social media platforms to express their condolences for the attack. A fundraising effort helped restore the studio, with the campaign garnering over $30 million by the end of 2019. 

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As for Aoba himself, Kyoto authorities and local media reports said that he was an unsuccesful novelist who had attacked the studio seeking revenge as he thought that Kyoto Animation had stolen one of his novel ideas that he had submitted as part of a company contest. According to a report by Kyodo News, Aoba continued to insist during his trial that he was fighting against a “dark figure” who had not only robbed him of the potential success of his book but had also stolen his ideas. He did, however, reportedly express some remorse over his actions, later stating that he did not think his arson attack would kill so many people. That said, according to a NHK report, the judge presiding over his trial noted in his judgment that Aoba “did not show sincere regret or face their (the victims' families) suffering fully and there was little hope for correction.”

Aoba's lawyers had sought to argue that he was delusional and, as such, mentally unfit to be criminally responsible for his actions. Ultimately this defence did not work as the court ruled Aoba mentally fit to face punishment given the evidence that he had planned and premediated his attack on Kyoto Animation. 

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Despite signficant international criticism, Japan continues to make use of the death penalty as a criminal punishment, with a 2019 survey showing that Japanese people overwhelmingly support the use of capital punishment in rare cases. The actual execution in these cases remains a matter of signficant secrecy in Japan, with prisoners not being informed of their fate until the morning of the execution. Since 2007, Japan has started reporting the name and some of the details of the crimes of those sentenced to death but such disclosures remain limited. 

With inputs from AP. 

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Published January 25th, 2024 at 21:49 IST

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