Psychiatric and legal experts comment on the possibility of arsonist in attack that killed 35 being sentenced to die for his crimes.

Immediately following the deadly arson attack on anime production company Kyoto Animation last month, police apprehended 41-year-old Shinji Aoba, who was taken into custody near the scene of the crime while saying “They stole my novel” and “I spread the gasoline and lit it with a lighter.”

Aoba, who also suffered burns in the incident, has been hospitalized, and is yet to be formally arraigned. The circumstances under which he was taken into custody, though, as well as security footage of him pushing a cart with two canisters of gasoline in the vicinity of Kyoto Animation’s Fushimi studio prior to the attack, leave little room in which he could plausibly deny being the arsonist. However, his culpability, in a legal sense, could be limited.

In a press conference held the day after the attack, Ryoji Nishiyama, head of the Kyoto Prefectural Police’s First Investigation Department, said “We have information indicating [Aoba] has a mental illness.” The exact nature of the purported illness has yet to be disclosed, but Japanese news organization Daily Shincho spoke with several psychological and legal experts as to how Aoba’s mental health could affect what legal repercussions he could face.

Masaru Wakasa, a lawyer who previously served as vice-director of the Public Prosecutors Office’s Tokyo’s Special Investigation Department, says that if Aoba is found t have been acting under a diminished mental capacity while carrying out the attack, there’s a chance he could be found not guilty, in accordance of Article 39 of the Japanese penal code.

Prominent psychiatrist Tamami Katada said that Aoba exhibited signs of what could be schizophrenia or castrophrenia, also known as “thought withdrawal,” in which a person believes that ideas are being forcefully taken from the their mind by outside forces. Katada goes on to say that such a delusion could have fed into a persecution complex and fueled a desire for violent revenge, culminating in the attack. It’s not clear, though, if Katada’s comments were made before or after Kyoto Animation confirmed that had received a submission Shinji Aoba in one of its regularly held novel-writing competitions.

However, Konan University law professor Osamu Watanabe holds that Aoba’s actions are consistent with someone who was well aware of the lethal effects they would have, and went through with them anyway. He cites the premeditated nature of the attack, which required the purchase and transportation of a large quantity of gasoline, the bag of other tools of destruction, hammers and bladed instruments that Aoba was carrying, and that he was heard by witnesses shouting “Die” during the attack. “It would be strange to say he was even slightly incapable of understanding his actions, and I believe there is ample justification to pursue the death penalty.”

Wakasa is inclined to agree with Watanabe, pointing to how Aoba verbally admitted to setting the fire while he was being apprehended, though the possibility remains that even if Aoba is found guilty, a psychiatric evaluation could make the maximum enforceable punishment life in prison.

Meanwhile, with the specifics of prosecution out of their hands, some Kyoto Animation artists are focusing on their own “ultimate counterattack,” continuing to pour their passion into creating animated works of the quality their fallen comrades strove for.

Sources: Daily Shincho via Yahoo! News Japan via Jin, Nihon Keizai Shimbun
Top image: Wikipedia/L26
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