• AFP-JIJI, Kyodo

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A man dubbed the “Twitter killer” for luring his victims on social media admitted in court Wednesday to killing nine people, pleading guilty to murdering, dismembering and storing the bodies in his apartment in a 2017 case involving victims who had expressed suicidal thoughts via the social networking site.

Takahiro Shiraishi, the 29-year-old defendant, told the Tachikawa branch of the Tokyo District Court that the allegations against him were “correct.”

His defense team, however, taking a different stance from Shiraishi, argued that he killed the victims — eight women and one man ages 15 to 26 — with their consent as they had expressed suicidal thoughts on social media, and therefore was guilty of the lesser charge of homicide with consent.

According to the indictment, Shiraishi strangled and dismembered his victims from Tokyo and four other prefectures from August to October in 2017. Their bodies were discovered inside containers such as cooling boxes in his apartment in Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture.

Shiraishi is alleged to have stolen cash from them and sexually assaulted all the female victims. He owed one of the women around ¥360,000 ($3,410).

After five months of psychiatric tests, prosecutors concluded Shiraishi can be held criminally liable and indicted him in September 2018.

In the day’s first hearing of his trial under the lay judge system, the victims’ names were not disclosed and they were instead referred to by the letters A through I as requested by their family members, given the sensitivity of the case.

The court has separated the victims into three groups in chronological order for a total of 24 hearings, which are scheduled to be held over 77 days. The ruling is set to be handed down Dec. 15.

The serial killings first came to light in October 2017 when police officers visited Shiraishi’s apartment and found several cooling boxes containing body parts during their search for a 23-year-old missing Tokyo woman, who later turned out to be one of the victims.

Shiraishi is believed to have approached people who expressed suicidal thoughts on Twitter under his account name loosely translated as “Hangman” and invited them to his home, saying he would help them die, according to investigative sources.

He apparently searched on the internet for how to mutilate bodies and purchased tools such as a chopper and a saw, while practicing how to tie rope knots, the sources said.

The case shocked many and prompted the government and social networking service businesses to increase support for young people in need of help.

Following the incident, Twitter Japan started allowing users to be linked to a nonprofit organization on suicide prevention work whenever words related to suicide are searched.

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