A US pathologist told a court in Tokyo today that it is impossible to tell how Nicola Furlong was strangled.
The marks on her neck are fairly ambiguous,” Dr Marianne Hamel said, “I cannot determine if it’s a manual or ligature strangulation” meaning that she can’t say if Richard Hinds, the American accused of Ms Furlong’ murder strangled her with his hands or with an item of clothing or towel, as alleged by the prosecution.
Her findings, based on an examination of the autopsy report and autopsy pictures, may be important for the defence because they indicate the level of intent of the man who killed the 21-year-old Wexford woman in a Tokyo hotel last May.
If Richard Hinds is found guilty of using a towel and rolling it up to use as a weapon, he will face a higher punishment because he will be deemed to have a higher level of intent.
Her findings differ from those of Dr Kenichi Yoshida, who carried out the autopsy on Ms Furlong’s body, and who said told Tokyo District Court on Monday that she was most likely strangled with a soft object such as a towel.
Dr Hamel, who appeared as a defence witness, also differed from Dr Yoshida in her assessment of how much pain Ms Furlong was in when she was killed. She said that because alcohol and prescription drug Xanax were present in her body when she died, “she may be able to feel pain but to a lesser degree than if she were fully sober.”
Dr Yoshida told the court on Tuesday that Ms Furlong “didn’t die quickly it took minutes and she died in great distress.”
But when asked what she thought of Dr Yoshida’s autopsy findings; Dr Hamel said I found no major mistakes.”
She travelled to Japan from the United States as a witness for the defence. She said she agreed with Dr Yoshida’s findings that Ms Furlong died from strangulation and agreed that however the strangulation occurred it lasted for “several minutes.”
This directly contradicts the position of the defendant, Mr Hinds, who said in a brief statement to the court on Monday that “I did lightly press her neck” but “I do not believe I was the cause of her death because the pressure was too light,”
Today was the fourth day of the trial. Since yesterday Richard Hinds’ mother Vivian and his brother, Claude, have been in court, both wearing bracelets of white beads with black writing saying “In Rich We Believe.” These bracelets were sold in Memphis, the home town of Richard Hinds, a professional musician, to raise money for his defence.
The trial continues tomorrow.