Man Who Killed 36 in Arson Attack Sentenced to Death

( – The man responsible for the deadliest arson attack in Japan since 2001 was sentenced to death on January 25th. Shinji Aoba, 45, was himself severely burned in the fire he started that killed 36 people, and lay in a hospital bed for months before he was arrested for the crime in May 2020.

Aoba’s lawyers tried to argue that their client was mentally unfit for court proceedings, but this gambit failed. After finding him mentally competent to stand trial and attend his sentencing, a Japanese court imposed the death penalty on Aoba for the 2019 crime. The judge in the case, Keisuke Masuda, said Aoba wanted revenge after his aspirations to become a novelist failed. Aoba, apparently believing the famous company Kyoto Animation No. 1 had stolen his stories, set fire to the studio building in July 2019.

Investigators believe many of the 36 died of carbon monoxide poisoning, and at least 30 others who survived were severely burned. One survivor described a huge black cloud traveling upward from the bottom of the building; he jumped from the third story of the studio building in a desperate attempt to escape.

Japanese media report that the out-of-work Aoba had been plotting another attack on a Tokyo train station (which did not take place) before he enacted his murderous revenge plot on Kyoto Animation No. 1. The judge took this into account when ruling on Aoba’s competence, noting that the man had pre-meditated the attack and knew what he was doing.

Judge Masuda said Aoba’s attack turned the studio “into hell” and caused the families of the victims “indescribable pain.” All told, there were about 70 people in the building when Aoba started the fire.

Kyoto Animation No. 1 is Japan’s most famous animation studio, having been founded in 1981. It became a national treasure for its wildly popular animated series about a group of high school girls.

The deadliest fire before Aoba’s attack occurred in 2001 in the Kabukicho district of Tokyo. That fire, which killed 44, was also ruled arson.

The day after Aoba’s sentencing his legal team filed an appeal against the punishment, arguing their client is mentally ill.

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