Jury trial of 45-year-old Shinji Aobaaccused of murder and arson of a building in the case of the an arson attack on Kyoto Animation studios in 2019in which 36 people died, will begin in the Kyoto District Court on September 5.. The main question is expected to be whether and to what extent the defendant is capable of accepting criminal responsibility. In addition, given the nature of the case and the number of victims, justice will be forced to make difficult decisions during the long 143-day trial.
According to investigations, Aoba had a history of mental illness. The Kyoto District Prosecutor’s Office spent about six months conducting an expert test to determine whether he had the criminal responsibility ability to judge right and wrong and control his behavior. The court considered that the defendant could be criminally responsible and he was formally charged in December 2020. At the defense’s request, the court also conducted a mental evaluation, which was conducted twice.
At trial, the prosecution plans to argue that Aoba was fully responsible. The defence, for its part, intends to argue that she did not have the capacity to be responsible or, if she did, that it was limited. If you are not found responsible, you will be found not guilty; if you are found to have limited capacity, your sentence will be reduced.
The number of test sessions is 24, excluding the preliminary days. In criminal trials, the prosecution usually presents its arguments just before sentencing, and the defense concludes with closing arguments. This time, however, the “temporary arguments” and “final arguments” to determine jurisdiction were set for November 6, the middle of the trial. After questioning the doctor who performed the psychiatric evaluation at the end of October, both the prosecution and the defense will present their views on the issue of jurisdiction. The judge and jury will then hold a closed-door “interim conference” by the end of November to reach a conclusion as to whether and to what extent the defendant is capable of accountability. This decision, which will have a significant impact on the verdict of guilty or not guilty and the sentencing decision, will be revealed for the first time during sentencing.
In addition, nine defense questioning sessions are scheduled for the September-October trial. Aoba confessed to the murder even before he was arrested and said that Kyoto Animation stole his novels, and claimed that some of KyoAni’s work was plagiarized from his own work, so it will be interesting to see how he explains his motives and circumstances. Victims’ family members will also have the opportunity to question the accused directly through the victim participation system.
The prosecution’s closing arguments and sentencing are expected to take place on December 7, along with the defense’s closing arguments, and the trial will conclude. The sentence will be handed down on 25 January 2024. According to the indictment, around 10:30 am on July 18, 2019, Aoba doused the first building of Kyoto Animation Studios with gasoline and set it on fire. He is accused of killing 36 directors and employees who were present and seriously injuring 32 others.
Of course, the possibility that the person responsible is acquitted of criminal responsibility has attracted comments in opinion forums in Japan:
- «You committed a crime because you could not control your behavior. Can that really work as justification?».
- «For 36 of the best animation workers in Japan».
- «If they let him go without charge, someone else will kill him.».
- «If he is declared not responsible, what will he do with his life? Will he spend the rest of his life in a mental institution?».
- «The simple fact that you are found to have limited reasoning ability will avoid the death penalty».
- «I guess we can’t expect him to be sentenced to death, too bad».
- «At the end of the day, with all the time they’ve taken, there’s a very small chance they’ll find you “not guilty at all” and give you a reduced sentence.».
- The defense has a tough job ahead of him, if the man even gets a reduced sentence, his lawyer will become famous among the community.».
- «It would be ironic if he was declared innocent after all the life he caused, can you imagine the chaos such a decision could cause?».