Kyoto Animation Arson-Murder: Defendant Must Speak Truthfully About Deadly Attack

The lay judge trial has begun for the deadly arson attack on a Kyoto Animation Co. studio that claimed 36 people’s lives. Why did the defendant take the lives of people who were living peacefully? He must speak the truth with sincerity.

Shinji Aoba has been accused of murder and other crimes for spreading gasoline and setting fire to the Kyoto Animation No. 1 studio in Kyoto City on July 18, 2019, killing 36 people and seriously or slightly injuring 32 others.

At his first hearing, the defendant stated, “I didn’t imagine that so many people would lose their lives, and now I think I went too far.” Aoba suffered severe burns and appeared in court in a wheelchair.

It took four years for the first hearing to be held because questioning and other procedures had to be carried out while assessing the defendant’s health. The doctor who treated him said, “I hope he profoundly regrets the crimes.” The defendant has a responsibility to consider the meaning of his life being saved.

The focus should be on how to ascertain the motive for the crime. In its opening statement, the prosecution said the defendant had developed an irrational resentment toward Kyoto Animation, believing that “the ideas in a novel he wrote, which he submitted to Kyoto Animation, had been stolen by the animation firm, and that it was due to Kyoto Animation that his life was not going well.”

In consideration of the gravity of the outcome, in which numerous people were murdered, it must be said that regardless of the defendant’s circumstances, his actions showed an utter disregard for other human beings.

The court has decided to keep many of the victims anonymous in the trial. This is likely out of consideration for the victims’ bereaved families, who do not want their heartrending experiences to be brought up again. Some of the bereaved families will reportedly utilize the victim participation system to directly question the defendant in court.

Aoba must accept the anguish of the bereaved families and face the crimes he committed.

Up to 32 hearings are likely to be held in his trial through January next year. It will be a heavy burden on the lay judges, who were chosen from the general public, to squarely face this horrific case for more than four months. It is also important to reduce the burden on the lay judges as much as possible.

The defense is arguing for Aoba’s acquittal on the grounds that he was in a state of mental insanity at the time of the incident, which precludes any criminal penalty. For that reason, the trial is likely to involve difficult academic terms. It is hoped that the court, the prosecution and the defense will strive to make the proceedings easy to understand for the lay judges.

Twenty-six people were killed in a case of arson and murder at a clinic in Osaka City in 2021. There has also been a spate of indiscriminate attacks on train passengers. There is no end to incidents in which perpetrators who grew up in a complicated family environment, moved from one job to another and became deeply isolated in society targeted a large number of random people.

It is vital to examine the background of the Kyoto Animation case from multiple angles to prevent a recurrence.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 6, 2023)