TOKYO (AP) — Japanese prosecutors have formally charged a suspected killer of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with murder, sending him to trial, a Japanese court said Friday.
Tetsuya Yamagami was arrested immediately after he allegedly shot Abe with a homemade gun while the former leader was giving a speech in July outside a railway station in Nara, western Japan.
Later that month, Yamagami was sent to an Osaka detention center for nearly six months of psychiatric evaluation, which ended on Tuesday. Yamagami is back in Nara police custody.
Prosecutors said the results of his mental evaluation showed that he was fit to stand trial. According to the Nara District Court, Yamagami was also accused of violating the gun control law.
Police say Yamagami told them he killed Abe, one of Japan’s most influential and divisive politicians, because of Abe’s apparent ties to a religious group he hated. In his statements and social media posts attributed to him, Yamagami said he was resentful because his mother made huge donations to the Unification Church, which bankrupted his family and ruined his life.
One of his lawyers, Masaaki Furukawa, told the Associated Press on Thursday that Yamagami was in good health during a psychiatric examination in Osaka, when he was allowed to see only his sister and three lawyers.
Furuawa said his trial is a serious matter and involves a citizen jury. He said that due to the complexity of the case, it would be at least a few months before his trial could begin.
Police are also reportedly considering adding several charges, including weapons manufacturing, breaching explosives control laws and causing damage to buildings.
Some Japanese people expressed sympathy for Yamagami, especially those who also suffered as children of followers of the South Korean-based Unification Church, which is known to pressure followers to make large donations and is considered a cult in Japan.
Thousands of people signed a petition seeking leniency for Yamagami, and others sent care packages to his relatives or detention.
The investigation into the case has revealed years of close links between Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the church, since Abe’s grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, helped the church take root in Japan in the 1960s for communist reasons.
Incumbent Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s popularity has declined due to his handling of the church controversy and his insistence on Abe’s rare, controversial state funeral.