Japan sentences man to death for Kyoto animation studio fire that killed 36 people, injured dozens

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A Japanese court on Thursday sentenced a man to death after finding him guilty of setting an animation studio on fire, killing 36 people and injuring dozens of others. 

The Kyoto District Court found 45-year-old Shinji Aoba guilty of murder and other crimes in the 2019 arson. The court said it found Aoba mentally capable to face punishment for his crimes and announced the sentence of capital punishment.

Aoba stormed into Kyoto Animation’s No. 1 studio on July 18, 2019, and set it on fire. Many of the victims were believed to have died of carbon monoxide poisoning, while dozens of others were badly burned or injured.  

KYOTO ANIMATION STUDIO FIRE

FILE: Emergency services personnel work at the Kyoto Animation Co studio building after an arson attack, on July 19, 2019, in Kyoto, Japan. (Carl Court/Getty Images)

Aoba himself was severely burned and hospitalized for 10 months before his arrest in May 2020. He appeared in court in a wheelchair. His defense lawyers argued he was mentally unfit to be held criminally responsible.

Prosecutors said Aoba was seeking revenge on the studio, thinking they had stolen novels he had submitted as part of a company contest, according to NHK national television. 

The station reported that Aoba had been out of work and struggling financially at the time and had plotted a separate attack on a train station north of Tokyo a month before the arson attack. 

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The court said Aoba plotted the attack after studying past criminal cases involving arson. The planning was presented as evidence Aoba was mentally capable, as the crimes were premeditated.

KYOTO ANIMATION STUDIO ARSON

FILE: Shinji Aoba, who is suspected of the Kyoto Animation studio arson attack, looks up as he is transported on a stretcher to the Fushimi police station in Kyoto on May 27, 2020. (STR/JIJI PRESS/AFP via Getty Images)

About 70 people were working inside the studio in southern Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, on the day of the attack. One of the survivors said he saw a black cloud rising from downstairs, then scorching heat came and he jumped from a window of the three-story building gasping for air.

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Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said the Kyoto Animation attack was “a highly tragic case” and that the government has since stepped up restrictions on gasoline sales, including mandatory identification checks of purchasers. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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