Angela Furlong is trying to recall her darkest point in the trial of the man accused of murdering her daughter.
Was it the moment she faced him in court after months of living in dread? The sight on grainy surveillance footage of her 21-year-old daughter, Nicola, bundled unconscious into a taxi, a few hours before she died? Or listening to prosecutors say Nicola was a drug user who liked “rough sex” with strangers?
Mrs. Furlong thinks it was the 19-year-old defendant’s extraordinary tearful outburst on Wednesday, when he turned directly to face her and Nicola’s father and said that he was “glad” they share the same belief in God. “It takes faith for you to believe in God even though you have never seen him,” he told the clearly surprised pair. “So it takes the very same faith to believe these words coming out of my mouth.”
After eight days focusing what she calls her bitterness and anger on the Memphis keyboard player who sat impassive throughout a few feet away, the outburst came as “a complete shock,” she recalls. “He was putting us in the same category as him and that made me angry.” Until that point, she says, he never looked at her or Andrew. “He’s probably ashamed,” she says. “I only hope that he feels some sort of remorse.”
The verdict in the case is due today. If convicted, the defendant faces a maximum of 10 years in a Japanese prison.
Whatever the verdict, Nicola’s mother thinks nobody will ever know what happened in room 1427 of the Shinjuku Plaza Hotel in the early hours of last May 24. “I think when he took the stand we all thought he was finally going to tell us the truth,” she continues. “But he didn’t, and we’re going home without it. I don’t expect to ever, ever learn the truth.”
Still, she has no regrets about coming over for the trial. “I needed to be here. I didn’t want to be sitting at home, waiting to hear it on the newspapers or news. There’s very, very little I can do for her now. It’s like when I go out to her grave twice a day and I just keep tidying things up, moving things around. It’s all I can do for her.”
Since the trial ended last Wednesday, the Furlongs have been trying to decompress from the grueling drama of the courtroom. Part of Angela’s pilgrimage to Japan was a trip this week to Takasaki City University of Economics, where her daughter was studying when she died. “This is part of Nicola’s life that we wanted to connect with,” she explains. “And now all the little stories that she told me make sense to me.”
“I can see her now going from her apartment to the post office on her bike; I know where she lived, how she went to college; I know the library she stood in. I wanted to see where she walked, where she went to school. There was a computer room where she used to work with maybe 20 seats and just I sat in it and thought, ‘This is where she used to sit.’ ”
Three days ago, she fell asleep properly without pills, she says, for the first time since Nicola died. It was the result, perhaps, of her cathartic outpouring of grief last Tuesday, when she broke down in the Tokyo District Court and told the nine judges she carries around a “heavy cloak of darkness.”
“It was a release,” she says. “I have grieved, but not properly. I remember coming out of the church and seeing the light outside the church and the coffin and realizing that she was going away from me. I lost it then.”
Sleeping tablets briefly help her blot out the constant images of Nicola in her mind, but when she wakes, they come back. “I think about her all the time, what happened to her.”
“I worry that when I get home I’ll going to fall apart. Sometimes I look at myself and think, ‘I’m too little; I’m not strong enough to keep this going.’ But I get up every morning and I put on the face and I walk out the door. When I leave Japan, I know I won’t be leaving this dark cloak behind me.”
She has rarely caught the eyes of the other mother in the case, the accused’s mother, sitting a few feet away. If she could talk to her, she says she would tell her, “I don’t believe he is a bad boy, but he was the last person to see my beautiful baby, and to see her beautiful eyes.”