Thursday 21 September 2017

Pal of Nicola accused gets three years for sex assault

James Blackston
James Blackston
Nicola Furlong’s father Andrew, showing his tattoos of Nicola, alongside her sister Andrea and mother Angela outside court in Tokyo
Nicola Furlong's sister Andrea stands with her father Andrew and mother Angela outside the Tokyo District Court at the end of the sixth day of proceedings

Paul Murphy in Tokyo

The friend of a man accused of the Nicola Furlong murder has been handed a three -year sentence for sexual assault.

James Blackston, a companion of Nicola Furlong murder accused Richard Hinds, was sentenced to “three years with labour” in a Japanese court today.

He will have 150 days deducted from the sentence for time already served in custody.

The conviction related to two separate sexual assaults – one on Nicola’s friend on the night she died and one on a separate woman some weeks previous.

Earlier today on the last day of his trial, Mr Hinds became emotional in court as he insisted to Nicola's family of murdered student Nicola that he was not a "strangler, murderer or pervert".

He looked directly at Nicola's father during his trial at Tokyo District Court this morning and said: “I look you dead in your eyes today and tell you that your daughter did not suffer.”

His testimony came as it emerged the 19-year-old American can only be given five to 10 years if found guilty of murder.

Today Mr Hinds changed the expressionless demeanour he has maintained  throughout his trial and made an emotional statement replete with religious references.

“You are not looking at a professional strangler, murderer or pervert,” he said addressing the six lay judges who sit with three professional judges.

Earlier in his closing statement, the lead prosecutor Kenji Horikoshi, called for a 5-10 year jail sentence for Mr Hinds, the maximum that can be given, he said, under Japanese law for a juvenile. The age of adulthood in Japan is 20.

“He deserves the death penalty or life imprisonment but because of Japan’s law for minors he can only be given 5-10 years. There is no reason to have a lighter sentence,” Mr Horikoshi said.

Mr Hinds continued to maintain that he did not strangle the 21-year-old Irish student in his Tokyo hotel room, but for the first time in this eight-day trial, he showed emotion. “There have been many nights when I have cried myself to sleep,” he said. “Please do not be deceived that I am oblivious to feelings and that I do not have a heart.”

He was speaking on the last day of his trial in a slot set aside for the defendant to make a final statement, once closing arguments for the prosecution and defence had been heard.

Although such speeches from the dock are supposed to be addressed to the judges, Mr Hinds spoke mostly to the Furlong family.

“Mr and Mrs Furlong, I am so glad that you believe in the same God I do, it really makes my heart happy,” he said.

“Mrs Furlong, it truly saddens my heart when I look over and see you crying. Mr Furlong, it pains me when I see you red with frustration,” he said. “I look you dead in your eyes today and tell you that your daughter did not suffer.”

During the trial, which has heard testimony from two pathologists that Ms Furlong died a painful death from strangulation when she was with Mr Hinds in his hotel room, the defendant has portrayed Nicola Furlong  as a sexually aggressive woman who had asked to be choked to give her sexual pleasure.

CCTV footage from the Keio Plaza hotel where she was killed in the early hours of last May 24th, shows Mr Hinds bringing the Wexford woman to his hotel room in a wheelchair as she slumps in an apparently unconscious condition.

In his closing statement the prosecutor said the defendant “shows no remorse... and he has violated Nicola’s dignity with his testimony” designed to make her look “promiscuous.”

Defence lawyer Kenji Hattori in his closing statement said “it is not possible to convict the defendant because there is not enough evidence.”

He also criticised evidence given last week by Dr Kenichi Yoshida, who did the autopsy on Ms Furlong, saying, “it was prejudiced in favour of the prosecution.”

Dr Yoshida gave unequivocal testimony, ruling out any other cause of death other than strangulation, including alcohol or drug poisoning, saying, “she didn’t just die, she was killed.”

He also said, “She didn’t die quickly, it took minutes and she died in great distress.”

Mr Hinds says he couldn’t have killed Ms Furlong because he had only “lightly” pressed on her neck for “less than 30 seconds.”

He continued to speak directly to the Furlongs even after he was interrupted by the prosecution who asked that he address his comments to the judges, rather than the family.

The Furlongs looked angry and confused by the intent of his speech.

After a second objection by the prosecution Mr Hinds addressed the judges, saying  “I firmly believe that I did not kill their daughter, that is from the bottom of my heart.”

Angela Furlong left the court in tears, after the session was ended.

Mr Hinds’ trial is now finished and a verdict will be delivered next Tuesday.

 

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