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Saturday 20 September 2014

Nicola Furlong family angered at Japanese justice system

Paul Murphy in Tokyo

Published 19/03/2013 | 07:22

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Nicola Furlong's father Andrew, mother Angela (R) and sister Andrea (C), leave Tokyo's District Court. Inset: Richard Hinds
Richard Hinds had 120 days taken from sentence for time already
Richard Hinds had 120 days taken from sentence for time already
Richard Hinds was tried before a panel of six lay judges and three professional judges at Tokyo District Court.
Richard Hinds was tried before a panel of six lay judges and three professional judges at Tokyo District Court.

The family of Nicola Furlong have said they don't feel they got justice for the murdered student, after Richard Hinds, a 19-year-old American musician, was sentenced to 5-10 years jail with with labour for her murder

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A Tokyo court today found Richard Hinds, a 19-year-old American musician, guilty of the murder of Nicola Furlong and sentenced him to 5-10 years in jail with labour.

Mr Hinds was tried before a panel of six lay judges and three professional judges at Tokyo District Court.  The presiding judge, Masayuki Ashizawa, described the crime as "atrocious and vicious" and said that the fact that Ms Furlong was "strangled with force for several minutes" showed murderous "intent."

While harsher sentencing options were available, Judge Ashizawa said that “the tendency of sentencing in juvenile cases [means that] we can’t choose the death penalty or life imprisonment.”

Speaking outside the court after the verdict, Andrea Furlong, the 19-year-old sister of the victim criticised the sentence as too short. “I am so angry and I am so hurt, we had so much faith in the Japanese doing justice for us and I don’t feel we got it, I am disgusted.”

Her father Andrew Furlong said, “We hope it’s more than five and up to ten. If he is is good in jail he will be out in five, it is only two years more than the other fella,” he said, referring to a 3-year prison sentence given last week to Mr Hinds’ friend James Blackston for assaulting Nicola Furlong’s friend in May and another woman the previous month.

The judge said in his judgement that it was “very understandable that the grieving family wishes graver punishment,” but the fact that Mr Hinds had no previous criminal record and that he was 19 when he murdered Nicola, an age considered legally a minor in Japan, were factors in deciding sentencing.

The 5-10 year sentence delivered today is the same as that requested by prosecutor Kenji Horikoshi in his closing argument last Wednesday. The judge took off 120 days from Mr Hinds’ sentence for time already served in detention.

Mr Hinds strangled the 21-year-old student from County Wexford in the Keio Plaza hotel last May 24th.

He had denied the charge. During two days of testimony last week he told a complex story aimed at offering an innocent explanation for various pieces of key evidence against him, from the vicim’s blood stains on the sheets of both beds in the hotel room, to the 5cm wide strangle mark around her neck.

Though he initially denied to police that he had strangled Ms Furlong, who was spending a year in a Japanese university as part of her DCU studies, he later said that he had placed his hands “lightly” on her neck for “less than 30 seconds.”

Today the judge said that Mr Hinds testimony was “not credible.”

The court had heard testimony from two pathologists, including one appearing as a defence witness, that Ms Furlong was strangled for several minutes.

Mr Hinds had also claimed that the blood stains on the bed sheets were due to Ms Furlong vomiting blood during sex.

Throughout his cross-examination, Mr Hinds, who is from Memphis in Tennessee, offered an unusually detailed version of what he claims happened in room 1427 of the Keio Plaza hotel and how an apparently unconscious women who he pushed into his room in a wheelchair in the early hours of the morning of May 24th ended up dead.

His defence rested upon portraying Ms Furlong as a drunken woman who awoke from her slumber and demanded “rough sex” from him and asked to be choked.

The judge today said that “the defendant consistently dishonoured the victim,” in his testimony with “irrational explanations.”

In an emotional victim impact statement last Tuesday, Nicola’s mother Angela said that Mr Hinds had tried to “blacken our daughter’s name with lies.”

The case leaves open many questions for the Furlong family. “We will never know the truth as to what happened in that room because he just won’t ‘man up’ and tell us the truth,” Angela Furlong said before the verdict.

Last Wednesday, Mr Hinds’ friend Mr Blackston, a 23-year-old dancer from Los Angeles, was jailed for three years for assaulting Ms Furlong’s friend on the night Nicola Furlong was murdered and a Brazilian woman the previous month. Both women said that they blacked out after drinking from tequila provided by Mr Blackston and woke up hours later in his hotel room.

The friend of Nicola Furlong told the Richard Hinds trial, “I have never taken drugs and because I have never become unconscious from alcohol the only reason I can think of is that someone put something into my drink.”

But blood and urine tests on the friend did not show any trace of a date rape drug, and while Mr Furlong’s blood tested positive for two drugs that have been implicated in date rape cases there was an innocent explanation for them.

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