Arsonist Sentenced to Death for Killing 36 People in 2019 Kyoto Studio Fire

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A Japanese judge sentenced to death a man who killed 36 people in an arson attack at an anime studio in Kyoto in 2019, one of the country’s deadliest attacks in decades, after he was found guilty of murder on Thursday.

Shinji Aoba, the defendant, was charged with murder in 2020, a year after setting fire to the studio of Kyoto Animation. He had been severely burned in the fire himself and was unconscious for weeks after, leading the authorities to wait to charge him until after he had sufficiently recovered.

Mr. Aoba had a history of mental illness. The Kyoto District Court said it found him mentally capable to face punishment for his crimes, The Associated Press reported.

In July 2019, Mr. Aoba barged into the studio with gasoline, sprayed it with force and set it on fire with a gas lighter, the judge said Thursday, according to local reports. Mr. Aoba did so, the judge added, because of a grudge — he was convinced that the studio had stolen a novel from him.

The arson shocked Japan, where violent attacks are rare. Mr. Aoba had purchased about 10 gallons of gasoline at a service station near the studio before the attack, according to police reports at the time, and screamed “Die!” as he set fire to the building, which was quickly engulfed in flames. Many of the victims, almost two-thirds of them women, died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

The judge, Keisuke Masuda, said on Thursday that Mr. Aoba had previously planned an attack on a train station, but had abandoned the idea. “In the midst of his poverty and isolation, he tried to commit a mass murder at Omiya Station in Saitama City one month before the incident,” Judge Masuda said, according to NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster.

The number of victims was the highest for any criminal trial in more than 30 years in the country, according to NHK.

Kyoto Animation, known by fans as KyoAni, has long been a fixture in the anime world. It’s known for “slice of life” stories and detailed scenery. Most of the studio’s production had taken place in the building that was ablaze.

“My heart aches as I think of my colleagues who were killed and damaged,” Hideaki Hatta, the president of the studio, said in a statement on Thursday. “We have many young creators who joined after the case,” he said. “We will keep producing great works as much as possible.”

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