An American minor was handed an indefinite prison term of between five and 10 years Tuesday for killing an Irish exchange student in May last year.
The 19-year-old defendant, whose name was withheld because he is a minor, was found guilty by the Tokyo District Court of strangling Nicola Furlong, 21, in his Shinjuku hotel room with “intent to kill.”
In handing down the sentence, presiding Judge Masaharu Ashizawa said the defendant deserves grave punishment and harshly criticized his testimony, which portrayed the victim as a promiscuous drug user.
“The defendant strangled the victim for a certain period of time and the crime was atrocious and vicious in nature,” Ashizawa said. “Throughout the trial, the defendant also made irrational arguments, which included content that defamed the victim’s honor, and has shown no sign of remorse.”
The defendant, a keyboard player, said Furlong asked for “rough sex” upon waking from a stupor caused by heavy drinking and said he was just trying to please her by applying light pressure to her neck. His lawyers emphasized that the drugs found in her blood system — alprazolam, an antianxiety medicine also known as Xanax, and lidocain — combined with the excessive amount of alcohol, could have caused her death.
Ashizawa dismissed their argument, saying the level of drugs was “considerably below the normal prescribed amount” and the court supported the autopsy reports, which confirmed pressure had been applied to Furlong’s neck and the presence of facial blood congestion — signs she was strangled.
The judge also said it would be “very unnatural” for Furlong to demand sex immediately after regaining consciousness, without knowing how she ended up in the defendant’s hotel room.
“The victim was just going to spend the night out drinking with her friend after a concert that she had been looking forward to and she was at no fault,” Ashizawa said.
The defendant maintained his innocence throughout the trial.
The indefinite term was handed down by three professional judges and six lay judges in accordance with juvenile law.
After the verdict, five of the lay judges told the press that interpretation mistakes had been made during the trial, which used two Japanese-English interpreters.
Lay judge No. 5, a woman in her 20s who said she speaks English, said she had to send several notes to the judge during the proceedings to let him know the interpreter was making mistakes.
“I wondered how much of the language, culture and background was understood, and sometimes felt there was a gap in their understanding and misinterpretation as well,” the lay judge said in Japanese. “Some of these misinterpretations occurred in important parts of the testimony.”
Furlong, who was studying at Takasaki City University of Economics in Gunma Prefecture, was in Tokyo to attend a Nicki Minaj concert in the Odaiba district. The defendant and his dancer friend, James Blackston, met the girls afterward, and the four went on to Shibuya, where they were seen doing multiple tequila shots before the girls passed out.