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KOBE (Kyodo) The Kobe District Court sentenced a 65-year-old man to death Monday for robbing and killing a couple in 2004 in what is believed to be the first death sentence handed down by a court through streamlined trial procedures.

Attorneys for Mineteru Yamamoto appealed the ruling immediately to the Osaka High Court.

The ruling and sentencing came at the trial’s fourth session, about two months after the first session was held, after defense attorneys and prosecutors met behind closed doors during the trial to narrow down the points of argument and decide on the evidence to be used, the witnesses to be called and the trial schedule.

The procedure, in which the defense and prosecution reveal what they plan to prove and present their evidence to each other behind closed doors, was introduced in November last year to speed up trials in preparation for the introduction of the “citizen judge” system by May 2009.

According to the district court, Yamamoto was in financial trouble due to gambling and fatally stabbed his cousin, Toshiteru Nakasuji, 68, and Nakasuji’s wife, Hisako, 75, at their home in Kobe on July 22, 2004.

Yamamoto then stole about 50,000 yen in cash, a watch and other items.

Presiding Judge Akiyoshi Sasano said there was no room for leniency over the motive, which came down to Yamamoto’s wanting to keep on gambling despite losing.

The defense did not deny guilt, but called for life imprisonment, arguing hanging would be too harsh because Yamamoto was mentally exhausted at the time of the slayings as he had been taking large amounts of sleeping pills almost daily.

The court said Yamamoto’s mental state was not abnormal, as he had described what happened before, during and after the crimes in detail in statements to police.