The trial for murdered DCU student has begun. Áine O’Donnell reports…
The trial of murdered Irish student Nicola Furlong opened in Tokyo on March 4. Ms Furlong’s parents and her sister travelled to Tokyo for the trial and will appear in court for its duration.
Nicola Furlong was found dead in a Tokyo hotel after attending a Nicki Minaj concert on May 24 last year while living in Tokyo on exchange from Dublin City University.
Mr Richard Hinds, a 19 year old American is accused of murdering Ms Furlong by strangulation. He admitted to putting his hands on Ms Furlong’s neck during the trial but insisted that he didn’t believe he killed her because “the pressure was too light”.
Dr Kenichi Yoshida, a forensics expert, told the court that Nicola Furlong “didn’t die quickly, it took minutes and she died in great distress”. He also said a soft item such as clothing or a rolled up towel was used to strangle Ms Furlong.
Ms Furlong’s DNA was found on a tank top and a towel in Mr Hinds’ hotel room. Dr Yoshida repeatedly denied that drugs and alcohol were the cause of Ms Furlong’s death amid arguments from the defence; he stated “she didn’t just die, she was killed.”
The woman who accompanied Nicola Furlong on the night of her murder gave evidence via video link on the third day of the trial. The woman, known as Victim A, had previously given evidence against Mr James Blackston who has been convicted of sexually assaulting her on the same night as Ms Furlong’s murder.
Victim A sobbed while confessing her fury over the incident; “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 that he took.”
The video footage from the taxi which they took was also shown in court in which both Nicola Furlong and Victim A appeared unconscious. Victim A revealed that she “didn’t remember anything” after taking a second shot with the men in a bar.
On the fifth day of the trial, Dr Marianne Hamel, an American pathologist for the defence, contested the findings of Dr Yoshida declaring that she “could not determine if it was manual or ligature strangulation”.
This argument from the defence is an appeal for a lesser punishment for Mr Hinds as the use of ligature will incur intent.
An ex-girlfriend of the accused appeared as a character witness. She indicated that she believed that the accused “couldn’t hurt a fly”. She insisted that Mr Hinds had a gentle character even after the prosecution read her a transcript from the video from the taxi in which the men discuss having sex with the women in a crass manner.
The defendant called Ms Furlong “Nicki” while on the stand which the Furlong family contested, finding it disrespectful as Ms Furlong was only called “Nicola”, or “Nic” by her friends and family.
Mr Hinds maintained that Ms Furlong had insisted they had sex although he initially refused because he did not have a condom. This statement is disputed as Hinds was wearing a denim jacket on the evening containing an unused condom. Ms Furlong’s father called Hinds’ display on the stand an attempt to “blacken her name”.
On March 12, the defendant admitted for the first time to putting two hands on Ms Furlong’s neck on the night of her death.
Hinds still reputed that he had no explanation for Ms Furlong’s death and stated that; “if I misjudged my pressure, I humbly accept it, if I misjudged it.”
He claimed that he put his hands on Ms Furlong’s neck because she wanted him to as an act of sexual pleasure.
CCTV footage from the hotel was shown; Ms Furlong and Victim A are seen apparently unconscious being pushed in wheelchairs by Hinds and Blackson to their hotel rooms.
On the same day, Ms Furlong’s sister and mother provided victim impact statements to the court. Ms Furlong’s sister made clear that she was very angry over her sister’s murder and appealed to the judges to award Mr Hinds the death penalty; “he took someone from us and ruined all our lives, so a life for a life.”
The trial continues and a judgement is expected on March 19.