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A violent death, some justice, few answers in Furlong case



FROM BBC NEWS:

Richard Hinds, 19, was given a sentence of a minimum of five years and a maximum of 10 years, with labour. In sentencing him, the chief judge said Hinds had shown no sign of remorse and had tainted the honour of the victim. Ms Furlong, 21, was found strangled in a hotel in Tokyo in May last year. Hinds, from Tennessee, had denied the 21-year-old's murder. The victim, from Curracloe, County Wexford, was studying in Japan as part of her studies with Dublin City University. During the trial the prosecution had argued that Mr Hinds should serve a 10-year prison sentence.

Ten years is the maximum a minor can receive in Tokyo.Last week, a friend of Hinds was convicted of sexually assaulting the woman Nicola Furlong was with on the night she died. James Blackston, a 23-year-old dancer from Los Angeles, was sentenced to three years in prison.

Ms Furlong and her friend, who is also Irish but whose name was withheld, went to Tokyo to see a concert.
After the concert, the two met Hinds and Blackston and went with them to a bar. At some point both of the women passed out. Prosecutors said they were drugged.

Security camera footage presented as evidence showed Blackston sexually assaulting Ms Furlong's friend in a taxi on the way to the hotel. At the hotel, the men borrowed wheelchairs to get the unconscious women to the rooms. Prosecutors said Hinds strangled Ms Furlong with a towel to keep her quiet after she regained consciousness.Hinds was 19 and a minor under Japanese law when he was arrested, but is being tried in an adult court.

After the sentence, Ms Furlong's mother Angela said: "Nicola's life was worth more than that. "We still don't know the truth of what happened in that room but we know Nicola did nothing wrong, we knew that coming out anyway." Nichola's sister Andrea said she felt let down by the Japanese criminal justice system. "I'm absolutely disgusted and so angry and so hurt," she said. "We had so much faith in the Japanese doing justice for us and I don't feel we got it."

FROM JAPANTIMES:
Bad guys rarely live up to their reputation, and so it was with James Blackston. Portrayed in the Irish media as a fearsome, muscle-bound rapper, in court he was a diminutive, baby-faced figure, his tattoos covered up by a cheap prison suit, mumbling his way through an incomprehensible defense for sexual assault.

A professional dancer known by his stage name “King Tight,” Blackston, was unaware he was being filmed by a surveillance camera as he mauled an unconscious girl from behind in a Tokyo taxi on May 24 last year. His friend, a 19-year-old fellow American whom The Japan Times has decided not to name because he is a minor (but whose identity has been widely disseminated in the foreign media) (OP: He isn't a minor to me at the age of 19, his name is Richard Hinds), sat in the front seat. The fourth passenger was 21-year-old Irish student Nicola Furlong, also unconscious. She had less than three hours to live.

The camera records what would become key prosecution evidence in the trials of both men, a conversation full of leering, predatory braggadocio. “These bitches fell into our lap,” says one. “We can f—k them,” says the younger one. “We gotta keep them f—ked up.” Then Blackston: “We are going to f—k them and leave them in my room.” At one stage the men exchange fist bumps.

Last week, nine months later, the accused minor would dismiss all this as “meaningless talk” in the Tokyo District Court. The prosecution thought otherwise, painstakingly translating every word and reading it aloud in court, occasionally fumbling over black American slang. When the defendant said, “I can’t wait to get to ATM,” did he mean, as he testified, that he was anxious to pay back his friend the money he had borrowed that night, or was it a euphemism for sodomy followed by oral sex?

The narrative of what happened on May 24 is now well known, at least until the women were carried unconscious to the hotel rooms of Blackston and his friend. The four met after a Nicki Minaj concert in Odaiba. The men testified that they were reluctant participants in the night’s activities, initially approached, then led on by two sexually aggressive women who wanted to “party,” according to the minor. Nicola Furlong’s surviving friend tearfully testified otherwise.

Later, at a bar near Shibuya Station, when the women suddenly and mysteriously fell unconscious, the Americans took them back to the Shinjuku Keio Plaza, where the duty manager helped ferry them upstairs in wheelchairs and onto the men’s beds. Neither was interested in sex with the women, they said; they were simply being kind. The minor told the court he couldn’t “morally” condone leaving them behind in the bar.

Blackston failed to convince a judge of this story in his trial for sexual assault. Handing him a sentence of three years with labor last Wednesday, the judge said the 23-year-old had taken advantage of a victim who “was not able to resist.” There was “no evidence of consent,” he said, in either the case of the Irish student or in another separate assault uncovered against a Brazilian woman who Blackston had described as a “groupie.” He had kept pictures of the sleeping woman’s genitals on his iPad.

Throughout his trial, Blackston cut an oddly lonely figure. Not one family member attended the multiple hearings, or the verdict. He came in blinking under court lights every day, looking for a rare friendly face in the public gallery. One of the defense team occasionally seemed to nod off. Blackston was oblivious to the impact his odd testimony — portraying himself as a good Samaritan to comatose women — would have in a legal system where remorse and reflection is rewarded.

The younger man’s lurid defense in his two-week murder trial also raised eyebrows. According to his testimony, Nicola Furlong came around in Room 1427 of the Keio Plaza and wordlessly indicated she wanted rough sex. He obliged by “lightly” throttling the exchange student, but not enough to kill her. Even when Furlong began to cough up blood, she wanted to continue, he said. At one point he recalled her using one hand to beckon him over and the other to reveal her vagina. He described himself as a “gentleman” for following her wishes.

Prosecutors believe Furlong woke up as she was being sexually assaulted and that the American throttled her, probably with a bath towel. Kenichi Yoshida, the physician who conducted the autopsy, testified that she died in “great distress” after being strangled for “minutes.” The defendant insisted throughout that his “light pressure” had lasted only 30 seconds. His lawyers argued till the end that a combination of alcohol and prescription drugs in Furlong’s bloodstream had contributed to her death, ignoring the testimony of Dr. Yoshida, who called that “irrelevant.”

A talented keyboard player and a church-going Christian, the 19-year-old defendant had little of Blackston’s cockiness. For most of his trial, which ended last week, he sat head bowed, avoiding the glare of Furlong’s parents, Angela and Andrew, who sat feet away. “I don’t take my eyes off him,” said Nicola’s mother after the trial began, as though she was searching his impassive face for answers.

His family watched from the public gallery, ignoring reporters, his mother nervously clutching her hands beneath a scarf, his brother occasionally closing his eyes in apparent silent prayer. On her way out of court on Wednesday, his mother whispered, “I love you.”

Unlike the trials of Joji Obara and Tatsuya Ichihashi for the deaths of Britons Lucie Blackman and Lindsay Hawker, respectively, Japanese reporters have stayed away. In the cold calculus of crime reporting, a foreign-on-foreign murder simply does not have the same racial frisson as a case involving a Japanese. The public gallery filled up with Irish reporters, law students and court otaku, all of whom took notes, perhaps noting the reactions of two ordinary families from other sides of the world caught up in what Angela Furlong called “the nightmare of nightmares” — the death of a child thousands of miles from home.

Race, of course, has not been entirely absent. The defense has obliquely argued throughout the trial that the prosecution mistook the bragging in the taxi for real intent. “When you say ‘my nigga,’ it’s just the way you talk in your community, right?” quizzed his lawyers at one point. Toxic racist rants about the two assailants have been widely posted on the Internet, mostly by people with only a fleeting acquaintance with the case.

The climax of the trial came last Wednesday when the younger defendant was asked if he wanted to address the panel of nine judges. Instead, looking directly at Andrew and Angela Furlong, who sat behind the prosecutor’s desk, he said, “I look dead in your eyes today and tell you that your daughter did not suffer.” He said he “prayed” for the Furlongs, “not as my enemy, not as my accusers, but the same as my family and friends.”

“I do not want to break your heart any more than it is. Mrs. Furlong, it truly saddens my heart to see you crying,” he continued. At one point, Nicola’s mother looked away in apparent disgust. When warned by the court to stop addressing the Furlongs, he turned toward the panel of judges and said: “I feel very sorry for their loss. I firmly believe I did not kill their daughter. That is from the bottom of my heart.”

The judges are unlikely to believe him. Even had he not entered the courtroom facing a system-wide conviction rate of more than 99 percent, his defense was weak. Defense lawyers tried to portray Nicola Furlong as a drug addict because of needle marks on her thighs. The examining doctor in the emergency room of the Tokyo Medical University Hospital explained, however, that the wounds were the result of attempting to take blood from her lifeless body. The grotesque, misfired strategy was a mark of desperation.

With his conviction, Blackston will take up residence in a Japanese prison, where talking is banned and he will be forced to work in silence for about ¥5,000 a month. His friend faces five to 10 years in jail when the decision is announced in his case today. Prosecutors want more but at 19 he is a minor under Japanese law.

Two sets of families leave Japan this week without answers to a sordid, heartbreaking crime. But only one can expect their child to eventually return home.


Source: 1, 2

It finally comes to a close. Japan needs to reform their justice system. Both of them should have gotten more years if not life.
Tags: international news, news, police
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