Killer of Irish woman in Japan gets light sentence

Nicola Furlong's murderer treated as a minor by court so could walk free in five years

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The Independent Online

The family of Nicola Furlong said they were “disgusted” today when the man who murdered the Irish student was handed a sentence that could see him leave jail in just five years’ time.

Tokyo District Court found 19-year-old Richard Hinds, an American musician, guilty of strangling Ms Furlong, 21, to death in May last year. But because he was technically a minor when he was arrested, the court was only able to sentence him to the minimum of five and a maximum of 10 years in jail, with labour.

Ms Furlong’s mother Angela broke down as the jail term was explained. She later called the decision “a travesty”. “It’s not enough, given the pain he caused Nicola,” she said. “We’re not leaving here believing we have justice. We still don’t know the truth of what happened in that hotel room.”

Her daughter Andrea said: “I just want to leave Japan, go home and never return.”

Last week James Blackston, a 23-year-old dancer from Los Angeles who was with Hinds on the night Ms Furlong died, was sentenced to three years for sexual assault.

The pair met Ms Furlong and a friend after a concert in Tokyo and went with them to a bar. There, the two women passed out after being drugged, according to the prosecution.

CCTV footage from a taxi shows Blackston sexually assaulting Ms Furlong’s friend as they travelled to the Keio Plaza Hotel, where the men borrowed wheelchairs to get the unconscious women to a room. Prosecutors said Hinds later strangled Ms Furlong with a towel to keep her quiet after she regained consciousness.

Delivering the verdict, a nine-member panel of professional and lay judges called the murder “atrocious and vicious in nature” and said Hinds’ account of what happened was “not credible”.

 “The defendant has continually given irrational explanations in his defence that have dishonoured the victim,” said the lead judge Masaharu Ashizawa, who acknowledged that the family’s demand for harsher sentencing was “very understandable”.

Hinds did not react when the verdict was delivered but smiled at his family as he walked out. Throughout the two-week trial he had argued that Ms Furlong, from Co. Wexford, had voluntarily gone to the hotel with him and willingly engaged in “rough sex”. His defence said that a “synergistic combination” of alcohol and a prescription drugs found in her bloodstream could have caused her death.

But the verdict said the concentration of Alprazolam, the active ingredient in the anxiety suppressant Xanax, was “well below” the normal prescription range and could not have been a factor in Ms Furlong’s death.