The close friend of Nicola Furlong who was with her on the night of her death broke down in tears as she told a Tokyo court she believed drinks spiked with drugs were the reason the two of them blacked out after drinking with the man accused of strangling Ms Furlong and another man standing trial for assaulting the unidentified Irishwoman last May.
By Rob Gilhooly, Tokyo
The woman, who spoke via live audio feed, said that neither she nor Ms Furlong had ever lost consciousness after drinking and had never taken drugs.
“I find it very difficult to believe I was unconscious for so long” solely as a result of alcohol, she said, after describing how she had lost consciousness for several hours after drinking with the men. “I can only think it’s because something was put in the drink.”
Asked by chief prosecutor Kenji Horikoshi what kind of person Ms Furlong was, the DCU student sobbed deeply as she told of a considerate and kind friend who had always been against taking drugs and the harm they caused.
“Nicola was the kindest, gentlest, and most generous person I have ever met,” she said. “She loved her family and friends and... always put others before herself. She had such a bright future, and she can’t have that anymore.”
She also expressed anger at Richard Hinds, the 19-year-old US musician accused of strangling Ms Furlong in his hotel room on May 24 last year. “I feel so angry that he took her away from me and her family and that he isn’t taking any responsibility for the life he took,” she said in a statement that brought tears from Nicola’s mother, Angela, and moved two of the lay judges. “She’s not here to defend herself. I have come to defend her and get justice for my best friend.”
Asked by Mr Hinds’s defence team why she thought tests administered by police and hospital medical staff on the unidentified Irishwoman had revealed no traces of drugs, the woman replied that she accepted the results. However, she believed there were many drugs for which she had not been tested. “But that’s just my opinion,” she said.
The defence team suggested the two women had blacked out after excessive drinking before and during a Nicki Minaj concert they had attended in the Japanese capital and after at the Scramble café bar with the two men.
Ms Furlong and her friend had prepared five 500ml bottles and one 650ml bottle of vodka mixed with orange juice, which they had taken with them to the concert from their apartment in Takasaki, about 100km north of Tokyo.
The bottles had contained about one-third vodka and two-thirds juice, the woman said. However, they had drunk fewer than four of them, as two had been confiscated at the door and another was only partially consumed, she said.
What’s more, she could only remember consuming two shots of tequila at Scramble, she said, adding that it was following the second that her memory of the night ends.
“The next thing I remember I was lying on some chairs. I didn’t know where I was but the police later told me I was in a hospital,” she said, referring to her transfer to a Tokyo hospital after Ms Furlong’s body had been found in Hind’s room.
“I also have a picture of Nicola being put into an ambulance but I don’t know where or when it was. I can just see her face and body.”
Blood from Ms Furlong had shown an alcohol level of 2.14mg of alcohol per 1ml of blood, the court was told — a level just over four times the permissible limit for driving in Ireland.
Ms Furlong’s friend described how they had taken a train to Tokyo from their digs in Takasaki, where they were studying Japanese and business studies on an exchange programme.
They had subsequently changed into self-styled outfits of frilly skirts and high socks that mimicked those worn by two young girls on YouTube who perform Nicki Minaj songs. Nicola had pasted stickers on her chest to form the letter “N”, she said.
After having something to eat, they headed to the venue in Tokyo’s Odaiba district at about 6.30pm, drinking one of their home-made cocktails, she said.
After the concert, the two men, who had also been to the event, had approached Ms Furlong and her friend by the ticket machine at Tokyo Teleport Station. After exchanging pleasantries the men had offered to take them to the Shibuya district, where the women had planned to go to a club.
They told the men they planned to stay up all night and catch the first train back to Takasaki the following morning. Mr Hinds and the other man, James Blackston, aged 23, had offered them one of their rooms at the Keio Plaza hotel, but the women “strongly declined” the offer, she said.
Once at Shibuya the women decided to go to the Scramble bar. The men followed, and the Irishwomen bought them a drink to express their gratitude for helping them out.
“They were so friendly so we didn’t feel any danger,” the woman said, breaking down again. “When we declined their offer of a room they didn’t push us. They were very gentle and kind.”
In testimony read out in court by the defence, Mr Blackston, who is standing trial for sexually abusing the Irishwoman and another woman, claimed the US men had gone to Shibuya with the Irishwomen but intended to go off separately to eat at a steak house.
It was only when the Irishwomen had invited them to go for a drink that they had joined them at Scramble bar, he said. The women also had been keen to take the men up on their offer of a room at the hotel, the statement read.
Expecting the unexpected is par for the course for the members of ITSA Theatre Company, which is staging its annual Improvised Panto at the Half Moon Theatre in Cork from Dec 6-21. Now in its third year, this fun event is, to some extent, guided by the over-16s audience.