Photo/IllutrationKoji Yamada bows to prosecutors and a curtain that served as a partition for bereaved family members sitting during the verdict ruling on Dec. 19 at Osaka District Court. (Illustration by Eri Iwasaki)

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OSAKA--A man who killed two junior high school students by strangulation in August 2015 after luring them into his vehicle was sentenced to death by the Osaka District Court on Dec. 19.

Presiding Judge Ryuta Asaka, in explaining the verdict, said that 48-year-old Koji Yamada intended to kill Natsumi Hirata, 13, and Ryoto Hoshino, 12, and had sufficient capabilities to bear responsibility for his actions.

At the time of the killings, the girl and the boy were first-year junior high school students in Neyagawa, Osaka Prefecture.

Prosecutors indicted Yamada on charges of strangling the students to death on Aug. 13, 2015, and demanded the death penalty.

In the lay-judge trial, a central dispute was whether he killed the two intentionally and whether he was sufficiently capable of bearing responsibility for the murders.

Prosecutors asserted that it was obvious he had intent to kill them, citing testimonies from doctors who examined the bodies. According to the testimonies, both children had been strangled for several minutes and suffocated to death.

The prosecutors also said Yamada had invited the students into his car in the early morning of Aug. 13, 2015. He killed Hoshino first and then murdered Hirata to silence her.

Based on Yamada's explanations, defense lawyers raised the possibility that Hoshino died suddenly of heatstroke or other causes, as he showed such symptoms as perspiring and convulsions before he died.

They argued that Yamada was innocent.

Regarding Hirata's death, the lawyers said that Yamada covered her mouth with his hand after she began to scream. They quoted him as saying, "I then noticed that my hand was around her neck."

The lawyers said that Yamada should thus not be charged with murder, but rather with inflicting injuries resulting in death.

Seeking leniency in the case, the lawyers said Yamada had a developmental disorder and that at the time of the incident, his mental powers had diminished, meaning his capability to bear responsibility for the children's deaths was extremely low.

The prosecutors, however, asserted that Yamada had sufficient capabilities to bear responsibility for his actions.

(This article was written by Sotaro Hata and Chinami Tajika.)