A Japanese man has pleaded guilty to murdering nine people after contacting them on Twitter, in a high-profile case that has shocked the country. Dubbed the “Twitter killer”, Takahiro Shiraishi was arrested in 2017 after body parts were found in his flat.
He told a court in Tokyo on Wednesday that the allegations against him “are all correct”.
But his lawyers argue that his charges should be reduced because his victims apparently gave consent to be killed. If convicted of murder, Shiraishi faces the death penalty, which is carried out by hanging in Japan.
The court case has attracted wide interest, with more than 600 people lining up for 13 public gallery seats to watch the first hearing on Wednesday, reported public broadcaster NHK.
The prosecution say the accused opened a Twitter account in March 2017 “to contact women contemplating suicide, whom he saw as easy targets”, NHK said. Eight of his victims were women, one of them aged 15.
The only male victim, aged 20, was killed after confronting Shiraishi about the whereabouts of his girlfriend, Japanese media reported.
The 29-year-old is believed to have lured his victims by telling them he could help them die and in some cases claimed he would kill himself alongside them.
His Twitter profile contained the words: “I want to help people who are really in pain. Please DM (direct message) me anytime.”
The serial killings first came to light when police were looking into the disappearance of a young woman, who later turned out to be one of the victims.
Officers visited Shiraishi’s flat in the Japanese city of Zuma, in the suburbs of Tokyo, where they found dismembered body parts.
But Shiraishi’s lawyers argue his victims had agreed to be killed, so the charges should be reduced to “murder with consent”. This carries a lower prison sentence of between six months and seven years.
But it is reported that Shiraishi disagrees with his lawyers. He told Mainichi Shimbun, a local daily, that he killed without the consent of his victims.
“There were bruises on the back of the victims’ heads. It means there was no consent and I did it so that they wouldn’t resist,” he said in comments published on Wednesday.
The serial killings have stunned Japan. When they were exposed in 2017, it triggered a new debate about websites on which suicide is discussed. At the time the government indicated it may introduce new regulations.
The murders also prompted a change by Twitter, which amended its rules to state users should not “promote or encourage suicide or self-harm”. Twitter’s chief executive Jack Dorsey said at the time the case was “extremely” sad.
Japan has long battled one of the highest suicide rates in the industrialised world although figures have dropped since preventative measures were introduced more than a decade ago.