The man arsonist who set fire to Kyoto Animation studio in 2019, which killed 36 people, making it the worst mass killing in the country in nearly two decades, has been sentenced to death by a Japanese court.
The defendant, 45-year-old Shinji Aoba was charged with arson and murder after informing officials his work was plagiarized and that he lit the studio on fire with gasoline. The Kyoto District Court found him guilty on Thursday.
At the time of the incident, dozens of people were inside the three-story animation studio, which became engulfed in flames so fast that many of them did not have a chance to escape.
Judge Keisuke Masuda called Aoba’s crime ‘truly inhumane and atrocious’ in his ruling and described the deaths of the victims as ‘serious and tragic’, with their ‘pain and horror’ being ‘beyond description’.
Following the incident, the police said in a news conference that Aoba had an unspecified mental illness.
At the trial, which began last year, he pleaded not guilty, with his defense lawyers arguing that he could not be held criminally responsible as he had mental health issues.
Prosecutors argued that Aoba was fully competent and called for the death penalty.
Among many industrialized nations with democracies, only Japan and some areas of the U.S. still have capital punishment. Amnesty International and other rights groups say using the death penalty against those with mental health issues is against international law.
On Thursday, it was ruled by the judge that Aoba could determine right and wrong at the time of the arson attack and that he was ‘neither insane nor mentally incompetent’ at the time of the attack.
The victims’ families were also present in the courtroom on Thursday, with many visibly emotional as the details of his crime were read out by the judge.
According to media outlets, Aoba kept his head bowed as the death penalty sentence was read out.
According to witnesses, Aoba had burst into the studio during the day, splashing gasoline on the ground floor while yelling ‘Drop dead’ to those inside. He later said during his guilty plea that he did not believe his attack would cause so many people to die.
Aoba himself also suffered burns to more than 90 percent of his body in the fire. It wasn’t until he had recovered from many surgeries that he was arrested by police.
The 2019 Kyoto animation studio fire was the worst mass killing in Japan since 2001, when a building in Tokyo’s Kabukicho district was set ablaze by arsonists, killing 44 people. The death toll was also higher than the 1995 Tokyo sarin gas attack, which killed 13 people.
The Kyoto attack also left many fans grieving the loss of life and an animation studio that had put its employees first.
Founded in 1981, KyoAni was known for producing high-quality animations that drew on both the mundane and the mystical. Some of its popular works include ‘K-On!’, ‘Free!’, ‘Violet Evergarden’, and ‘the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya’.