TOKYO : A Japanese man dubbed the ''Twitter Killer'' was sentenced to death by Tokyo court on Tuesday for murdering dismembering nine people he met on the social media platform.

Takahiro Shiraishi, 30, admitted killing and butchering his young victims, all but one of them were women.

Shiraishi targeted social media users who posted about taking their own lives, telling them he could help them in their plans - or even die alongside them.

His lawyers had argued he should receive a prison sentence rather than be executed because his victims, aged between 15 and 26, had expressed suicidal thoughts on social media and so had consented to die.

But a judge dismissed the argument and handed down the death sentence over the 2017 crimes, which he called ''cunning and cruel'' public broadcaster NHK said.

''None of the nine victims consented to be killed, including silent consent,'' NHK quoted the judge as saying.

''It is extremely grave that the lives of nine  young people were taken away. The dignity of the victims was trampled upon,'' he said, adding that Shiraishi had prayed upon people who were ''mentally fragile''.

The judge said the case, which prompted calls for tighter control on social media networks, ''provoked great anxiety in society, because social networks are so commonly used.''

The grisly murders attracted international attention, and the case has been followed closely in Japan, with 435 people reportedly turning up to secure one of the 16 available public seats.

Nine dismembered bodies - with as many as 240 bone parts stashed in coolers and toolboxes - had been sprinkled with cat litter in a bid to hide the evidence.

Japan is one of the few developed nations to retain the death penalty, with more than 100 inmates on death row, and support for it remains high.

Japan has the highest suicide rate among the Group of Seven industrialised nations, with more than  20,000 people taking their lives annually.

Numbers have fallen since a peak in 2003, but there have been signs that suicide rates are rising again in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. [AFP]


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