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Kobe District Court on Thursday found a 30-year-old man not guilty by reason of insanity of killing three people and injuring two others in Kobe in July 2017.

In a lay judge trial, presiding Judge Kentaro Iijima recognized that the defendant was in a state of insanity at the time of the incident due to a mental disorder, acquitting him of charges including murder.

"The suspicion cannot be ruled out that he was under the strong influence of a delusion and other factors, with the normal functioning of his mind hindered," Iijima said.

Public prosecutors had sought an indefinite prison term, claiming that the defendant had diminished capacity.

The focus of the trial was not on what happened in the incident but on the degree of criminal liability.

In an unusual move, the prosecution conducted a psychiatric examination twice before indicting the defendant, who was not making sense.

Psychiatrists in the two examinations reached different conclusions.

Iijima adopted the conclusion of the doctor in the first examination, who diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia.

Iijima judged that the defendant had either truly believed that the people he killed were zombies, or even if that was not the case, he largely believed the delusion.

Therefore, he was unable to stop himself from murdering them, according to the judge.

Adopting the second doctor's conclusion, which denied that the defendant's mental disorder had an overwhelming influence over him, the prosecution had said that the defendant had a diminished capacity.

Iijima, however, said that the conclusion drawn by the second doctor was less credible than that of the first doctor as the former only met the defendant once and for around five minutes.

According to the ruling, the defendant killed his grandparents, both 83 at that time, and a neighbor, then 79, through stabbing and other means on the morning of July 16, 2017, at and near his home in Kobe. He also tried to kill his mother, 57, and another person.

In Japan, several defendants are acquitted by reason of insanity annually in first-instance rulings at district courts. But it is unusual that such a judgment is made in a serious case, such as murder of more than one person.

Such rulings are sometimes overturned in appeals trials. Experts point to the difficulty of judging whether defendants with mental disorders are capable of taking criminal responsibility.

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