• Crime & Courts

KyoAni Arsonist, Shinji Aoba, Sentenced to Death for 2019 Studio Attack; Judge Rejects Claims of Insanity, Diminished Capacity (UPDATE 1)

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Shinji Aoba is seen on May 2020

KYOTO — The Kyoto District Court on Thursday sentenced Shinji Aoba to death for killing 36 people in an arson attack on a studio of Kyoto Animation Co., or KyoAni, in July 2019.

Presiding Judge Keisuke Masuda declared Aoba guilty of five charges, including murder, attempted murder and arson. Thirty-two people were also injured in the attack on the studio in Fushimi Ward, Kyoto.

“The defendant was neither in a state of mental insanity nor had diminished capacity [at the time of the incident],” Masuda said. Whether Aoba should be held criminally responsible was the greatest point of contention in the trial. Prosecutors had sought the death penalty.

Aoba, 45, testified that he decided to commit the crime because he thought KyoAni stole his work after he unsuccessfully submitted two novels to a KyoAni competition in 2017. He also said a “shadowy figure” instructed KyoAni not to select his competition entries and to plagiarize his works.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers argued over whether and to what extent Aoba could be held criminally responsible.

The prosecution said his delusions had a limited influence on his actions, based on the testimony of a doctor who conducted a psychiatric evaluation of Aoba before the indictment, Aoba’s behavior immediately before the incident and his statements in court.

Aoba was fully mentally competent to be held criminally liable, the prosecution asserted, because he clearly knew right from wrong and could control his behavior.

Based on the testimony of another doctor who conducted a psychiatric evaluation after Aoba’s indictment, the defense claimed that he had been consumed by his delusions for more than 10 years and he had consequently lost the strength to dissuade himself from committing the crime.

Aoba’s defense lawyers urged the court not to impose the death penalty or to acquit him, saying he was either in a state of mental insanity or had diminished capacity at the time of the incident.

His trial began on Sept. 5 last year. Aoba was questioned 10 times, and as many as about 80 people, including relatives of the victims, gave statements.

The names of 19 out of the 36 people killed were not publicly stated at the trial, along with the names of 34 others, including injured persons.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A vehicle believed to be carrying Shinji Aoba enters the Kyoto District Court in Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, on Thursday morning.