Monday 23 April 2018

'We'll never know the truth about that night'

Paul Murphy Tokyo and Louise Hogan

THE family of murdered student Nicola Furlong hope to seek new blood tests, as they say a host of unanswered questions remain about her death.

And, after a harrowing time in court, they branded the five to 10-year sentence handed down to Memphis musician Richard Hinds (19) as disappointingly "lenient".

Nicola's parents, Angela and Andrew, along with her younger sister Andrea, fear they will now never "know the truth" of what went on in room 1427 at Keio Plaza Hotel, Tokyo, after the 21-year-old exchange student was pushed there unconscious in a wheelchair.

Angela firmly believes her daughter was drugged on the night last May she was taken to the hotel room and found over two hours later lifeless on the floor.

"I don't know how many tests they carried out on Nicola's blood," her mother said. "I think further tests will need to be done – I would like an answer."

Despite sitting day after day listening to heartwrenching evidence and watching CCTV footage in the Tokyo courtroom, the family feel they still do not know what occurred on the night she was killed.

"I'll never believe anything he (Hinds) has to say now," she said. "To look me dead in the eye and tell me my baby didn't suffer. That was the biggest lie anyone could ever tell any mother. Everything that came out of that man's mouth were lies for the past eight days in court."

Tokyo Judge Masaharu Ashizawa, along with eight fellow judges, found Hinds guilty of Nicola's murder, branding his testimony "untrustworthy" and saying he had shown no remorse.

He stressed the young student was "not at fault in any way" for her death. Handing down the sentence of five to 10 years, he explained the young age of the killer meant he could not opt for the death penalty or life imprisonment.

The family had to endure seeing CCTV footage showing both Nicola, and her friend, apparently unconscious as they were taken back to the hotel in a taxi by Hinds and his friend James Blackston.

LA dancer Blackston (23) is already serving a three-year sentence for sexual assault on a Brazilian woman, and assault on Nicola's friend that night. Both the Irish and Brazilian women told how they blacked out after drinking tequila that Blackston gave them.

Angela said they had no desire to pursue a civil action against Hinds.

"I don't want anything from him anyway. All I wanted was the truth and he couldn't give me that," she told the Irish Independent.

Nicola's blood tested positive for two drugs that have been implicated in date rape cases but there was an innocent explanation provided in court.

A solitary highlight in their bleak three-week visit to Japan for the case was to walk in Nicola's footsteps at the university in Takasaki City, northwest of Tokyo, where she had been studying for the eight months before her murder.

"It was lovely to go to Takasaki to meet some of Nicola's college friends, to walk in the footsteps that she had walked," she said. "It was so comforting to me, it really was."

Yet, for that chink of light amid the gloom, there also came further despair as they went to the state prosecutor's office two days ago to pick up the belongings Nicola had with her on the night she died.

"It was like getting Nicola back all over again and then today it was like we buried her again today," she said after the ruling.

The Furlongs are now preparing for their painful journey back to Ireland.

"We are going back to mourn properly because we have had this for the last nine months. This was on our agenda, to get out to Japan and clear Nicola's name, we have done that," said Andrew.

"I don't think there is ever going to be an end to this. I think our grieving will start when we get home as we have been focused on staying so strong for Nicola," said Angela.

After returning home, her first stop will be the place where she has visited twice daily for the past nine-months – Nicola's graveside. All she wants to do is lay fresh flowers on her grave and tell her what happened in Japan.

"I know she is looking down on us now and she is proud of what we have done," her mother said.

Irish Independent

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