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U.S. minor gets five to 10 years for strangling Furlong

by Masami Ito

Staff Writer

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.

  • http://www.BlackTokyo.com/ Zurui

    Thank you for an informative and unbiased article!

  • Spudator

    Assuming that erroneous interpreting didn’t lead to the wrong verdict being reached, five to ten years for killing a young woman with her whole life ahead of her, and blighting the lives of her poor parents in the process, doesn’t sound like “grave punishment”. The defendant was lucky that Japan is still a backward country in that it considers a 19-year-old to be a child. In just about any other country, he would have been tried as an adult and received a sentence befitting the crime.

    • Kenichi Kino

      Prisons in Japan are solitary for all prisoners, there is no heat in the winter or cooler in the winter. They are no TV’s, weightlifting or general prison population conversation. You get one visitor a week for one hour if you earned that privilege. As one Japanese Prison warden stated “prisons exist to punish the inmates” there is only hard labor. Most foreigners who serve time in Japanese prison end up needing therapy.

      • Spudator

        The thing is, if he’s released after five years, he’ll be 24 and still a young man (Nicola was 21 when he killed her). So he’ll still be able to enjoy some of the best years of his life, whereas he robbed Nicola of almost all of hers. This just isn’t equitable regardless of how harsh life is in a Japanese prison.

        I’d like to see him forfeit all of those best years. That would be equitable. He should serve a term in prison that deprives him of his freedom until well into his thirties–maybe even until he’s 40. That would still leave him time to do things like get married and raise a family (joys that Nicola will never now know); but those precious best years would have been lost.

        From what you describe, Japanese prisons sound like terrible places, and I wouldn’t wish that kind of punishment on anyone. I think prisons in all countries should follow the Norwegian model, where prisoners are simply deprived of their freedom but are never dehumanized, always being treated with respect and accorded dignity. A prison term under such conditions while still a young man would be reasonable for this killer.

  • dedsetmad

    In today’s world I fail to see how a 19 year old can be considered a “minor”.
    He has committed an adult crime, let him take adult punishment.