CHIBA – Tatsuya Ichihashi pleaded not guilty Monday to premeditated murder in the 2007 slaying of Briton Lindsay Ann Hawker, 22, although he admitted raping her and hiding her corpse on his apartment balcony.
“I did not intend to murder Lindsay, but I am responsible for her death, and I intend to take the blame for it,” Ichihashi said as he entered his plea at the start of his Chiba District Court lay judge trial.
“I was the one who raped Lindsay. I was the one who put her through a scary experience and took her life,” the defendant said. “I am very, very sorry.”
A tall and skinny Ichihashi, dressed in black shirt and black jeans, with long wavy hair, sobbed as he entered his plea. Upon entering the courtroom, he kneeled to the floor in an apparent gesture of apology to Hawker’s parents, who sat together with the prosecutors.
Even after guards made him stand up, Ichihashi continued to bow deeply to the parents.
Ichihashi stands accused of tying up and raping Hawker before choking her to death on March 25, 2007, in his apartment in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture. He hid her corpse in a sand-filled bathtub on the balcony.
Ichihashi faces three counts: rape resulting in death, murder and abandoning a corpse.
The focal point of the trial is expected to be whether Ichihashi intended to murder Hawker when he raped her.
In their opening statement, prosecutors claimed Ichihashi beat Hawker at the time of the rape and had a strong intent to murder her so she would not report it.
Ichihashi’s lawyers argued that although the defendant raped Hawker and abandoned her body, she was still alive afterward and the beating took place some time later. They said they will argue that Ichihashi’s charges should be rape and injury resulting in death, instead of rape resulting in death, and murder.
“Only Lindsay and I know what happened that day, but because of me, Lindsay cannot talk. I believe it is my duty to talk about what happened that day through this trial,” Ichihashi said.
Ichihashi fled when police came to his flat to question him about Hawker’s disappearance, and spent 32 months on the run before he was arrested in Osaka port in November 2009 waiting to catch a ferry to Okinawa. His case received widespread coverage in Japan as well as overseas.
Earlier this year, Ichihashi published a book about the 32 months as a fugitive.
One of his lawyers told the bench: “I believe you may have heard news about the fact that he fled, but I would like for you to decide this case based only on the evidence that is entered into this court.”
Six lay judges, all men, were randomly chosen from the body of local voters on June 28. They will sit together with three professional judges through the six trial sessions scheduled before the announcement of the verdict, which is expected on July 21.
After the prosecution and defense make their closing arguments on July 12, the nine judges will deliberate together for six days. Should the lay and professional judges find Ichihashi guilty, a sentence will also be handed down the same day.
Hawker’s parents, her friend, Ichihashi’s university professors and the doctor who performed the autopsy on Hawker are scheduled to testify.
According to Ichihashi’s book, during his life on the run, he underwent plastic surgery and facial self-mutilation, and fled to many places, including Shikoku, Okinawa and Osaka. He worked at construction sites under a fake name.