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Man is sentenced to death for arson attack at Japanese anime studio that killed 36

Police officers gather outside the Kyoto District Court in Kyoto, western Japan, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024, ahead of the sentencing hearing for Shinji Aoba.
Miki Matsuzaki
/
AP
Police officers gather outside the Kyoto District Court in Kyoto, western Japan, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024, ahead of the sentencing hearing for Shinji Aoba.

TOKYO — A Japanese court sentenced a man to death after finding him guilty of murder and other crimes Thursday for carrying out a shocking arson attack on an anime studio in Kyoto, Japan, that killed 36 people.

The Kyoto District Court said it found the defendant, Shinji Aoba, mentally capable to face punishment for the crimes and announced his capital punishment after a recess in a two-part session on Thursday.

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. More than 30 other people were badly burned or injured.

Judge Keisuke Masuda said Aoba had wanted to be a novelist but was unsuccessful and so he sought revenge, thinking that Kyoto Animation had stolen novels he submitted as part of a company contest, according to NHK national television.

NHK also reported that Aoba, who was out of work and struggling financially after repeatedly changing jobs, had plotted a separate attack on a train station north of Tokyo a month before the arson attack on the animation studio.

Aoba plotted the attacks after studying past criminal cases involving arson, the court said in the ruling, noting the process showed that Aoba had premeditated the crime and was mentally capable.

"The attack that instantly turned the studio into hell and took the precious lives of 36 people, caused them indescribable pain," the judge said, according to NHK.

Aoba, 45, was severely burned and was hospitalized for 10 months before his arrest in May 2020. He appeared in court in a wheelchair.

Aoba's defense lawyers argued he was mentally unfit to be held criminally responsible.

About 70 people were working inside the studio in southern Kyoto, Japan's ancient capital, at the time 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.

The company, founded in 1981 and better known as KyoAni, made a mega-hit anime series about high school girls, and the studio trained aspirants to the craft.

Japanese media have described Aoba as being thought of as a troublemaker who repeatedly changed contract jobs and apartments and quarreled with neighbors.

The fire was Japan's deadliest since 2001, when a blaze in Tokyo's congested Kabukicho entertainment district killed 44 people, and it was the country's worst-known case of arson in modern times.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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