Death Sentence for KyoAni Attacker: Did Bereaved Families’ Suffering Make Any Impression on Defendant?

A horrendous crime took the lives of many promising young people in an instant. The defendant must face the cases squarely and understand the gravity of his crime.

In a lay judge trial, the Kyoto District Court has sentenced defendant Shinji Aoba to death for murder and other charges in the July 2019 fatal arson attack on Kyoto Animation Co., in which 36 people were killed and 32 others were injured.

The crime was triggered by the defendant’s delusion that KyoAni had stolen ideas from his novels. There was no argument between prosecutors and defense lawyers on this point, and the focus of the trial was whether the defendant could be held criminally responsible.

The defense side argued at trial that the defendant was in a state of mental insanity or had diminished capacity at the time of the incident because he was unable to control his behavior due to delusions. However, the court ruled that his delusions had a limited influence on his actions and found him fully criminally liable.

Based on that, it is fair to say that there was no other option but for capital punishment to be given to the defendant, given the atrocious nature of his crime and the gravity of the consequences that resulted in the deaths and injuries of 68 people.

At trial, the defendant confessed that he had hesitated to commit arson immediately before spreading gasoline at the site, saying that he “had a guilty conscience.” Why did he not stop short of committing the crime? He deserved to be severely condemned for his actions, which showed no regard for the preciousness of life.

During the trial, which lasted more than four months, bereaved family members and survivors appeared in court and confronted the defendant. A man who lost his wife appealed, “Think about those who are left behind and suffering.” One mother sang in court her original lullaby, which she had sung for her daughter when she viewed her daughter’s body.

“With the fire spreading so fast, there was no luck,” the defendant said, as if discussing something that he had nothing to do with, yet he also expressed apologies and regrets, saying that he was sorry and had acted shallowly. One wonders how much of the grief and suffering of the bereaved families was conveyed to the defendant.

Although it is not enough, if the trial provided an opportunity for the defendant to face his guilt, it may have been significant that the bereaved families and survivors confronted the attacker with the pain and anguish they felt.

The lay judges, who had to make tough decisions, must have felt a heavy psychological burden. To make the points of contention easier for them to understand, the hearing was held in three stages focusing on the background and motive, capacity for responsibility, and severity of the sentence.

The ruling also noted that the defendant had become increasingly isolated in society. Having been abused and grown up in poverty, he stopped attending school, and even after he started working, he was moving from one job to another, according to the ruling.

In recent years, there have been a series of indiscriminate killings and attacks by suspects who became desperate because they were isolated from society.

To prevent such crimes, it is important for the central and local governments to take measures such as offering consultation services. However, even so, it is necessary to make people understand that unreasonably taking someone’s life can never be condoned under any circumstances.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 27, 2024)