Tuesday 12 December 2017

Nicola Furlong died ‘slow, painful death’: doctor

Andrea Furlong (left), younger sister of Nicola Furlong (inset), leaves the Tokyo court with a friend
Andrea Furlong (left), younger sister of Nicola Furlong (inset), leaves the Tokyo court with a friend

Paul Murphy in Tokyo

Nicola Furlong died a painful death by strangulation, an expert in forensic medicine told Tokyo District Court today.

“She didn’t die quickly, it took minutes and she died in great distress,” said Dr Kenichi Yoshida, who carried out the autopsy on the body of the 21-year-old Wexford student.

He also said that Ms Furlong would have fought back, pointing to autopsy photographs of “scratch marks and abrasions that could have been caused by the victim herself when she was struggling to resist strangulation by the assailant.”

He ruled out any other cause of death, adding, “she didn’t just die, she was killed,” he said.

Dr Yoshida also said that a soft object such as a rolled-up towel or item of clothing was likely used to kill the 21-year-old student from Wexford.

Ms Furlong’s DNA was found on a towel and a tank top in Mr Hinds’ room in Tokyo’s Keio Plaza hotel where Ms Furlong was killed. 

Dr Yoshida said that the autopsy showed internal bleeding in several places and that there was a 5cm wide mark going around her neck where she was choked.

Richard Hinds, a 19-year-old American, admitted in court yesterday that, while he had put his hands on Ms Furlong’s neck, he didn’t believe he killed  her “because the pressure was too light.”

Mr Hinds sat expressionless during the testimony, occasionally taking notes.

His defence team questioned Dr Yoshida repeatedly about whether a mix of drugs and alcohol could have caused Ms Furlong’s death.  But the forensics expert said that if drugs had been the cause her respiratory system would have shut down and this didn’t happen.

“As I explained, if it was the effect of drugs it would have affected the respiratory system but I didn’t see any evidence to this effect,” he said.

At one point Dr Yoshida refused to answer questions from some of his Mr Hinds’ defence lawyers, saying that he was “answering the same meaningless questions again and again.”

Earlier today, Dr Kenta Aida, an A&E doctor at Tokyo Medical University Hospital where Ms Furlong was admitted on the night she died, was questioned closely about nine needle marks on the thighs of Ms Furlong.

The doctor said that a colleague, a trainee doctor, had tried several times to get a blood sample from Ms Furlong’s body, but failed. Dr Aida then took over and he also tried a few times before he finally got a sample. He explained that it was difficult to find a place on the body to get a blood sample once a patient’s heart has stopped pumping.

The defence had apparently hoped to use the evidence of the needle marks to imply that Ms Furlong was a drug taker.

In court yesterday, the defence argued that Ms Furlong may have died from a mixture of drugs and alcohol rather than at the hands of Mr Hinds.

The theory that Ms Furlong had been the victim of date-rape drugs, however, which prosecutors and police had been working on, was questioned today by testimony given in the morning and afternoon.

The court was told today that Ms Furlong’s blood tested positive for Xanax and Lidocaine. Both of these drugs have been associated with date rape cases, but this morning Dr Aida explained that the presence of Lidocaine was due to a gel he put on the tube that he inserted into Ms Furlong’s respiratory tract in a failed attempt to induce breathing.

In the afternoon, the court heard that the level of Xanax in her blood was low and that Ms Furlong had been prescribed the drug, which acts as a hypnotic, in Ireland for her anxiety about going to study in Japan.

The court was told by Dr Aida that when Ms Furlong was brought to the Hospital by ambulance at 3:53am on May 24 after she was found lifeless in the hotel room, he tried to “resuscitate her by performing a heart massage, lung compression.. and adrenalin injection” as well as putting a tube down her throat.

Dr Aida said that about five minutes after Ms Furlong’s body failed to respond to these life-saving measures he pronounced her dead.

He added that even months after the event, he could remember Ms Furlong because “she was very young and left an impression on me.”

If convicted Mr Hinds faces three possible sentences; a fixed prison term of at least five years, a life sentence or the death penalty.

The trial continues tomorrow.

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