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Kyoto Anime arson suspect to undergo psychiatric evaluation

Osaka Detention House, where arson suspect Shinji Aoba is now incarcerated, is seen in this photo taken from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter in Osaka's Miyakojima Ward on May 27, 2020. (Mainichi)

KYOTO -- The Kyoto District Public Prosecutors Office announced on June 9 it will detain a man arrested on May 27 over a July 2019 arson attack on a Kyoto Animation Co. studio that killed 36 people and injured 34 others, to evaluate his mental competency.

The 42-year-old suspect, Shinji Aoba, from Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo, will be detained until Sept. 10 for a psychiatric evaluation affirmed by the Kyoto District Court. Since Aoba is bedridden due to his burns, it is likely that his mental evaluation will be conducted at the Osaka detention center where he is now incarcerated, which has a medical system in place.

Prosecutors will investigate if Aoba is mentally competent to take criminal responsibility for his actions, and judge whether he can be indicted or not.

Aoba reportedly entered the firm's No. 1 studio in Kyoto's Fushimi Ward, where around 70 people including Kyoto Animation employees were working at the time, and used gasoline and a cigarette lighter to start a deadly fire at around 10:30 a.m. on July 18, 2019. Kyoto Prefectural Police immediately took him into custody after the attack.

The suspect had been hospitalized with severe burns on over 90% of his body from the fire he started. He is still bedridden but was judged far enough recovered to be able to converse with investigators. On May 27, he was arrested on suspicion of murder and other crimes and his case was sent to public prosecutors.

Aoba has admitted to the allegations against him, telling investigators that he thought he would be able to kill many people if he used gasoline, but his motives are still under investigation. Since the time before his arrest, he has continued to claim that the company "stole" his novel. Though Aoba did submit a novel to Kyoto Animation, the company says there are no similarities between the content of his submission and its past works. Kyoto Prefectural Police suspect that Aoba built up one-sided resentment toward the company.

Three days before the attack, there had been trouble at the apartment where the suspect lived, and Aoba had threatened a neighbor, telling them, "Shut up. I'll kill you. I've got enough on my own plate," and it seemed he had been driven into a corner due to mental pressure.

Due to such circumstances, the public prosecutors office decided that a test be conducted to see if he is mentally competent to assume criminal responsibility. The office plans to judge whether he can be indicted based on a psychiatric evaluation by medical specialists and others.

(Japanese original by Norikazu Chiba and Kanae Soejima, Kyoto Bureau)

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