RICHARD Hinds was the musician everyone wanted.
In the God-fearing gospel scene of Memphis, Tennessee, the teenager was rising to the top. "Everybody knew him," said Reverend Eugene Gibson of Olivet Fellowship Baptist Church, where Hinds spent two years performing.
"Everybody wanted him on their project. Everybody wanted him in the studio. Everybody wanted him on tour, because he's that good."
And he added: "He's the most respectful, soft-mouthed, mild-mannered guy in the world."
But he also described how the youngster "had a swagger" as his musical gifts took him places.
"He's a young man with gifts that far exceed his age. Gifts are attractive, so he had the ladies liking him."
Now Hinds will spend years in a foreign jail having been convicted of murdering a young woman he had only just met.
It was Hinds' musical talent that took him to Tokyo, where he met Nicola Furlong at a rap concert, because he was touring with Japanese musician Al.
Rev Gibson was one of the last people to speak with Hinds before the 19-year-old travelled to Japan.
"He came by because he just wanted to thank me," he said.
Hinds has no adult or juvenile criminal record in Memphis, and news of his arrest stunned the church.
The congregation had known Hinds as a quiet lead organ player who spoke to older people using "sir" and "m'am".
A fundraiser for Hinds' family was later hosted at the church. The benefit was organised by Hinds' supporters from the Memphis gospel community and members of several local churches where he performed as a teenager.
But there was a side of Hinds that many in the church never saw – Rev Gibson recalled seeing him acting differently around friends. And choir girls, he said, would "gawk over his gift".
"With gospel musicians in the city, he was one of the most respected organists in the city at 18," Gibson said. "He's that good. And he's a good-looking young man."
But Rev Gibson said he found it hard to believe that Hinds attacked Nicola.
"We'd never seen anything like that . . . I won't say he's incapable of that, but I didn't see it in him."
The man who mentored Hinds and his older brother Claude during their early teens shared Gibson's sentiment.
Ralph Sutton, who operates Studio D House of Blues Recording Studio in Memphis, spoke to local TV news stations after the May 24 killing and said he couldn't recall a single instance in which the two caused trouble or behaved badly.
Speaking after the verdict yesterday, Mr Sutton said the entire situation and its outcome was "shocking".
"You never want to imagine something like this happening to them. . . but I am very sad," he said. "Obviously, this is going to change his life, and change it forever. And obviously for (Nicola's) parents and the people, it's also going to change their lives. It's a double loss."
Mr Sutton said that judging from the verdict, it's possible that Hinds is different from the young teen he knew.
"He could have picked up some behaviour during that time," he said.
Several of Hinds' supporters took to Twitter after the verdict was announced. Some tweeted faith-based sentiments and Bible verses with the hashtag "inrichwebelieve".
Meanwhile, Hinds' ex-girlfriend Alayne LeShaye would not comment, saying it would be disrespectful to him and his family.
"I'd prefer not to speak about that matter," she said.