The family of Nicola Furlong came face to face with the student’s alleged killer for the first time yesterday, when the trial of the American musician Richard Hinds began in Tokyo.
The prosecution painted a picture of a “remorseless” Hinds who, with an American friend, had lured Ms Furlong and her fellow Co Wexford friend back to the hotel where they were staying.
They claim that blood on the bed of Mr Hinds’ hotel room and early morning shouting were the start of a struggle that ended in Ms Furlong being strangled by Hinds, who they say had used a towel or similar object to commit the murder at their hotel shortly after 3am on May 24.
Responding to the claims, a seemingly calm Hinds, dressed in grey suit and white shirt, acknowledged that he had “lightly pressed” Ms Furlong’s neck but “did not believe that to be the cause of her death” because the pressure was too light.
“There was no resistance from her and I had no intent, reason or motive to hurt, harm or kill her,” said Hinds, aged 19, who is considered a juvenile under Japanese law.
The prosecution, lead by Kenji Horikoshi, argued that marks on the back of Ms Furlong’s neck indicated that “light but sustained” pressure had been placed on her neck with an intent to kill. They said the defendant had shown “absolutely no remorse” and called for “severe” punishment.
Hinds’ defence team argued that the prosecutors’ case provided no clear proof of murder and that there was a “strong possibility” that the death had rather been caused by a lethal combination of alcohol and drugs.
Blood tests from the DCU exchange student, they said, had revealed the presence of high levels of alcohol and the commercially available Lidocaine and Alprazolan, the latter more commonly known as Xanax, a drug used in the treatment of panic and anxiety disorders.
The combination of Xanax and alcohol is also thought to be used to concoct a “date rape” drug.
Prosecutors had inferred previously that drugs had been used in a separate case against Hinds’ friend, James Blackston, who is standing trial for an alleged assault on Ms Furlong’s unidentified friend at the Keio Plaza hotel in Tokyo on May 24 last year, the same place and date of Ms Furlong’s death.
A similar scenario has also been presented in the Hinds case.
The two Irishwomen had been out drinking with the American men, whom they had met after a Nicki Minaj concert in Tokyo. They had travelled down from their exchange university in Takasaki 100km north of the capital while the two American men were on a tour with Japanese-American singer, Ai.
Witness testimony from staff at Scramble bar where they drank said the women had been unable to stand unassisted when they left the central Tokyo bar at around 12.30am.
The four had each drunk three shots of tequila and a cocktail during their 90 minutes in the bar, but according to a part-time barman who had served them, the women had been unable to walk unassisted and one of them had been helped to a taxi by the men.
Video footage from a security camera inside the taxi revealed the two women to be largely unresponsive, while conversation between the two men suggested their intention to sexually assault them once back at their hotel rooms. One of the two men is heard saying that the two women were “falling in our laps” and that they needed to “keep ’em [the Irishwomen] fucked up”.
CCTV footage from inside the Keio Plaza elevator was also shown, once more confirming the largely unconscious state of the women, who had been transferred from the taxi into hotel wheelchairs with the help of the hotel’s duty manager Takuya Niwano.
As the video footage was shown, Ms Furlong’s father, Andrew, and mother, Angela, who sat behind the prosecution team and directly opposite the accused, both covered their eyes, Mr Furlong later wiping away tears.
Mrs Furlong had begun crying when the defence team outlined in its opening argument that her late daughter had not resisted Hinds in his hotel room but had in fact demanded sex from him. Duty manager Niwano testified that he had been alerted to a potential problem in Hinds’ room when he received a call from a guest who had complained of noise.
Mr Niwano said that while on a first visit he had heard nothing untoward coming from the room, but on a later inspection he had heard someone in the room saying: “She’s no breath.”
After gaining access to the room at about 3.30am he had found a clothed but unconscious Ms Furlong lying on the floor. He had then attempted to resuscitate her.
“There was no reaction and no pulse,” he said. “Her heart had completely stopped.” He then told another staff member to call an ambulance, he said, but not before noting that the room was in some disarray.
Mr Niwano said that Hinds had told him that he and Ms Furlong had had “rough” sex on the bed and then the floor. When he asked Hinds what the woman’s name was, he replied that “he didn’t know”.
Bloodstains were later found on the bedclothes and also on the taps and door in the bathroom, the prosecution said.
Hinds defence team insisted that the American had been “surprised” at Ms Furlong’s condition. He had only lightly pressed her neck to try and control her cries of excitement, they said.
While Hinds could receive the death penalty if convicted, such a verdict is thought unlikely, but he could face a sentence of up to 30 years if found guilty.
The trial continues.
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