By MARI YAMAGUCHI Associated Press
TOKYO (AP) — Japanese prosecutors formally filed murder charges Wednesday against a suspect in a deadly fire at a Kyoto anime studio last year, after it was determined that he has recovered enough from his own severe burns and is mentally fit to stand trial.
Police in the southern city of Kyoto did not arrest Shinji Aoba, 42, on murder and arson allegations until late May, 10 months after obtaining a warrant, because they had to wait for him to recover. Authorities also carried out a mental evaluation of Aoba and concluded that he is capable of taking criminal responsibility.
The Kyoto District Public Prosecutors Office said prosecutors indicted Aoba on murder, attempted murder, arson and two other charges on Wednesday, when his court-approved custody was to expire.
Aoba is accused of storming into a Kyoto Animation studio on July 18 last year and setting it on fire, killing 36 people and injuring more than 30. The attack shocked Japan and drew an outpouring of grief from anime fans around the world.
Authorities allege that Aoba was carrying two containers of flammable liquid when he entered the studio’s unlocked front door, dumped the liquid and set it afire with a lighter.
Seventy people were working inside the studio at the time of the attack.
Many of the victims died of carbon monoxide poisoning after failing to escape to the roof, fire officials said.
One of the survivors, an animator, told Japanese media he jumped from a window of the three-story building gasping for air amid scorching heat after seeing a “a black mushroom cloud” rising from downstairs.
Aoba sustained severe burns to his face, torso and limbs and was unconscious for weeks. He still cannot walk and was transferred on a stretcher from his hospital room to a detention center, where an investigation was carried out while his health was carefully monitored.
Japanese television footage that captured Aoba entering the detention center showed his face scarred, eyebrows lost and fingers disfigured, apparently from the fire.
Police have said Aoba told them that he set the fire because he thought Kyoto Animation “stole novels” and that he thought he could kill many people with gasoline.
Kyoto Animation’s hits include “Lucky Star” of 2008, “K-On!” in 2011 and “Haruhi Suzumiya” in 2009. Its new feature film, “Violet Evergarden,” about a woman who professionally writes letters for clients, was scheduled to open in April but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The fire was Japan’s deadliest since 2001, when a blaze in Tokyo’s Kabukicho entertainment district killed 44 people in the country’s worst-known case of arson in modern times.
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