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Japan prosecutors seek death penalty for anime studio arson suspect: reports

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Japanese prosecutors on Thursday sought the death penalty for the man charged over the 2019 arson attack on Kyoto Animation that killed 36 people, the country’s deadliest crime in decades, local media reported.

Shinji Aoba, who nearly died from burns he sustained, has admitted to starting the fire and faces five charges including murder, attempted murder and arson.

The blaze that ripped through the famous studio in July 2019 shocked Japan as well as the country’s huge anime industry and its fans around the world.

Public broadcaster NHK and Jiji Press said prosecutors had sought the death penalty.

The Kyoto district court was not immediately available to confirm the reports.

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Japan is one of the few developed countries to retain the death penalty, and public support for capital punishment remains high despite international criticism.

At the start of the trial in September, Aoba admitted starting the blaze.

“I feel tremendously sorry and the feeling includes a sense of guilt,” Aoba told the court on Wednesday, apologising for the first time, NHK reported.

He is accused of breaking into the studio’s building, spreading gasoline around the ground floor and setting it alight before reportedly shouting “drop dead”.

Many of those killed in the blaze were young staff, including a 21-year-old woman. More than 30 others were injured.

Firefighters told reporters at the time that the incident was “unprecedented” and that rescuing people and extinguishing the fire was “extremely difficult”.

The 45-year-old was allegedly angry that his ideas had been stolen by the studio, known by its fans as KyoAni.

Prosecutors told the court in September the arson attack was “committed out of misplaced resentment”.

Aoba had a “delusion” that the studio stole his ideas, they said, something denied by Kyoto Animation.

More than 90 percent of Aoba’s skin was burned and a doctor who treated him told the Yomiuri newspaper that he required 12 operations.

Aoba regained consciousness weeks later and was said to have sobbed with relief after undergoing a procedure that restored his ability to speak.

The charges against him were made after a psychiatric evaluation.

Aoba’s lawyers have entered a plea of not guilty, saying he “did not have the capacity to distinguish between good and bad and to stop committing the crime due to a mental disorder”.

The court is scheduled to deliver its verdict on January 25.

“Please give me back my daughter,” a mother who lost her 26-year-old daughter told the court early this week, NHK reported.

“I wish I could go back to that day and die with her, at least by her side,” she said.

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