TOKYO - A Japanese man was sentenced to death today for killing three people he met through an internet site for group suicides in 2005, a local court spokeswoman said.
The unemployed man, Hiroshi Maeue, 38, invited a 14-year-old boy out to commit suicide together using charcoal fumes, but then suffocated him to death, Kyodo news agency said.
Maeue, killed two others -- a 25-year-old woman and a 21-year-old male college student -- by similar means and abandoned their bodies, Kyodo said.
The nature of the crimes was cruel and made Maeue difficult to correct, Presiding Judge Kazuo Mizushima of the Osaka District Court in western Japan was quoted saying in handing down the sentence.
Maeue's defence counsel appealed the ruling, Kyodo said. An increasing number of suicide websites have cropped up in recent years in Japan, where the suicide rate is one of the highest among industrialised countries.
Experts say the sites attract those who are afraid to die alone, and police say the number of people who died in group suicide pacts after meeting online totalled 56 in 2006, down from a record 91 in 2005.
No religious prohibition exists against taking one's own life in Japan, where suicide was once a way to escape failure or save loved ones from embarrassment or financial loss.