Suspect charged with murder in assassination of Japan’s Abe

TOKYO — Japanese prosecutors formally charged the suspect in the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with murder, sending him to stand trial, a court said Jan. 13.

Tetsuya Yamagami was arrested immediately after allegedly shooting Abe with a homemade gun as the former leader was making a campaign speech in July outside a train station in Nara in western Japan. He then underwent a nearly six-month mental evaluation, which prosecutors said showed he is fit to stand trial.

Yamagami was also charged with violating a gun control law, according to the Nara District Court.

Police have said Yamagami told them that he killed Abe, one of Japan’s most influential and divisive politicians, because of Abe’s apparent links to a religious group that he hated. In his statements and in social media postings attributed to him, Yamagami said he developed a grudge because his mother had made massive donations to the Unification Church that bankrupted his family and ruined his life.

One of his lawyers, Masaaki Furukawa, told The Associated Press on Jan. 12 that Yamagami will have to take responsibility for the serious consequences of his alleged actions and that his defense lawyers will do their best to reduce his sentence.

Japanese law allows capital punishment for murder, but experts say the death penalty usually is handed down for multiple killings and Yamagami could get life in prison if convicted.

No date is set for the trial, which is expected to have a panel of civil jurors in addition to the usual bench judges, as is typical in murder cases and other serious criminal trials in Japan. There are no pretrial hearings in Japan and defendants generally undergo trials.

Due to the complexity of the case, it will take months before his trial begins, Furukawa said.

Police are also reportedly considering adding several other allegations, including producing weapons, violating the explosives control law and causing damage to buildings.

Some Japanese have expressed sympathy for Yamagami, especially those who also suffered as children of followers of the South Korea-based Unification Church, which is known for pressuring adherents into making big donations and is considered a cult in Japan.

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