On July 18, 2019, Aoba Shinji set the Kyoto Animation building on fire in an arson attack, killing 36 people and injuring another 32, in what became one of Japan’s deadliest cases of mass murder. To prepare for his crime, he bought 40 liters of gasoline. He then entered the Kyoto Animation building, splashed gasoline on six workers while shouting “Go to hell!”, and set the building on fire with a lighter. The fire engulfed the entire building.
Aoba said he set the fire due to a grudge he had against Kyoto Animation, in which he claimed the studio had stolen his ideas after it rejected his novels in its annual award contest. No evidence was found that Kyoto Animation plagiarized any of Aoba’s work.
On January 25, the 45 year old was sentenced to the death penalty for his crimes.
That morning, over 400 people lined up for a lottery to get one of the 23 seats available to listen to the ruling. Family members of some of the victims were also present.
The trial mainly focused on whether Aoba was was mentally competent to be held criminally liable. Judge Masuda Keisuke said Aoba was not mentally incompetent, nor in a diminished mental state at the time of the crime, meaning that he is criminally liable for the crime. Prosecutors agreed with Masuda, and argued that the death penalty was the only option suitable given the gravity of the crime. On the other hand, the defense team argued that Aoba should be acquitted or receive a reduced sentence due to his diminished mental capacity. Two psychiatrists who testified in court were also divided over his Aoba’s state.
In a December hearing, Aoba apologized to the victims and their families and said that he should atone for what he did through the death penalty. In an earlier September hearing, he also said that he didn’t think so many people would die in the fire.
Before the ruling was given, Masuda asked if Aoba, who was in a wheelchair and wearing a blue tracksuit, if he had anything else to add, to which he declined.