"The shattering of a heart when being broken is the loudest quiet ever."
It was the 23rd of May 2012. A Thursday. Twenty one year old Nicola Furlong was excited. The concert she had been looking forward to for some time was on that night. Nicola had tickets for the Nicki Minaj concert in Tokyo, Japan. She was going there with a friend.
Nicola was from a small town, Curracloe, County Wexford, Ireland but was studying in Japan as part of her studies with Dublin City University. Nicola was doing a four year degree and was in the third year of that degree. That involved students studying in a different country and Nicola had been in Japan since October 2011 studying at the Takasaki City University of Economics. She was due to return home to Ireland in July 2012 and even though she loved Japan, she couldn't wait to get back home. But that night, there was only one thing she couldn't wait for and that was the concert. Her parents, Andrew and Angela Furlong, and her younger sisters Andrea and Hannah back home knew how excited she was and they were expecting to receive a call from Nicola the next day so that they could hear how the concert went.
They never received that call. Instead, just after 8am in Ireland, Nicola's father Andrew opened the door to the police. They informed him that his daughter was dead.
In the early hours of Thursday morning, the 24th of May, a guest at a hotel in Japan made a complaint about noise coming from one of the rooms. A member of staff went to the room in question and found an unconscious Nicola on the floor and a man standing close by. Nicola was brought to the hospital but was pronounced dead shortly afterwards.
The man who was inside the room with Nicola was nineteen year old US citizen Richard Hinds. He was arrested along with a twenty three year old US citizen James Blackston.
Richard was charged with murder and James was charged with sexual assault. He was accused of sexually assaulting Nicola's friend.
It was the Prosecution's case that Nicola and her friend, who remained anonymous, went to the Nicki Minaj concert as planned and afterwards went to the train station to get the train back. When they were at the station, Richard and James introduced themselves. Richard was a professional musician from Memphis, Tennessee and James was a professional dancer from Los Angeles and he was on tour in Japan at the time.
They asked Nicola and her friend back to the hotel they were staying at but they declined. Instead all four went to the Scramble Bar and had a few drinks there.
It was the Prosecution's case that the two women were drugged while at the bar.
Security footage was shown to the Court. The footage was taken from inside the taxi. Richard, James, Nicola and her friend were in the taxi together. And the content of the footage revealed their true intentions.
Nicola and her friend appeared to be passed out in the back of the taxi and James, who was not aware he was being filmed, sexually assaulted Nicola's friend on the back seat of the taxi. Richard and James could also be heard talking on the footage. Richard said:
“These b*tches fell into our lap. We can f**k them. We gotta keep them f**ked up.”
“We are going to f**k them and leave them in my room.”
The two men exchanged fist bumps.
When they arrived at the hotel, the Keio Plaza Hotel in Tokyo, Richard and James needed assistance as neither of the girls appeared to be conscious and could not walk. They borrowed wheelchairs from the hotel and used them to wheel the girls into the lobby of the hotel. Two members of staff helped to carry Nicola into Richard's room and put her on his bed.
Nicola Furlong and her father, Andrew Furlong
It was the Prosecution's case that Nicola only regained consciousness when she was inside Richard's hotel room and when he was sexually assaulting her. It was their case that she tried to make him stop and fought for her life and that resulted in her being strangled to death.
Dr Kenichi Yoshida, the Doctor who carried out the Autopsy, gave evidence. He told the Court that death was caused by suffocation after strangulation by a towel or by a ligature. He said:
"The victim was still breathing and her heart was still beating at the time she was being choked."
Dr Yoshida said that the Autopsy showed internal bleeding in several places. There was a 5cm wide mark around her neck. This was caused by a ligature. He told the Court that Nicola:
"didn’t die quickly, it took minutes and she died in great distress."
He believed that Nicola tried to stop Richard from strangling her as she had scratches, marks and abrasions on her body that were likely caused by her trying to remove the ligature.
He ruled out any other cause of death. He told the Court:
“she didn’t just die, she was killed.”
Dr Yoshida said that a soft object such as a towel that had been rolled up or an item of clothing was used to strangle Nicola to death. He gave evidence that the strangulation would have taken several minutes.
Nicola’s DNA was found on a towel in the hotel room and on Richard's tank top.
Nicola Furlong with her mother Angela Furlong and younger sister Andrea Furlong
It was the Defense's case that drugs and alcohol caused Nicola's death. Richard admitted he pressed her neck but the pressure was so light that it could not have caused her death.
They tried to portray Nicola as a drug addict and promiscuous. It was their case that Nicola and her friend approached the two men at the train station and asked them if they could speak English. They claimed that Richard and James were not interested in the women sexually but invited them out for a drink to be kind.
It was the Defense's case that the four of them went to the Scramble bar and Nicola and her friend became semi conscious after having a few drinks. Richard told the Court that “morally” he could not leave them in the bar in that state so he arranged for them to get a taxi back to his hotel.
Richard claimed that back at the hotel, when Nicola woke up, she was sexually aggressive. He said that Nicola wanted rough sex and began to shout at him when he refused to have sex with her.
Richard told the Court that:
“She grabbed my right arm with her right hand. She was pulling my arm toward her upper body. It left me confused about what she was intending.I thought she was referring to rough sex.”
Richard said that he did not want to have full sexual intercourse with her as he did not have a condom. However police confirmed they found an unused condom in his jacket pocket. Richard told the Court:
“That was when I pressed her neck. She was talking loudly first but gradually she quieted down.I remember hearing her breathe abnormally.”
He said he pressed her neck to stop her from shouting but also to please her as she had asked him to do it earlier. He claimed he pressed her neck for thirty seconds but in the statement he initially gave to police, he told them it was for 2-3 minutes.
Richard was asked during his testimony to stop referring to Nicola as Nicki. Nicola was not called Nicki by anyone ever. She was referred to by family and friends as Nic or Nicola.
The Prosecution asked him to explain why Nicola's blood was on his hotel bed sheet. Richard told the Court that when they were having sex, Nicola vomited blood. He claimed that Nicola wanted to continue having sex after she vomited the blood.
He denied that his hand on her neck caused her death.
The Defense claimed that Nicola's drug use was evident from the needle marks on her thighs. But the Prosecution disproved that. Dr Kenta Aida, an Accident and Emergency Doctor, at the Tokyo Medical University Hospital where Nicola was admitted on the night she died, gave evidence. He told the Court that there were nine needle marks on Nicola's thighs because his colleague, a trainee Doctor, had tried several times to get a blood sample from Nicola’s body, but failed. Dr Aida took over. It took him a few attempts before he finally got a sample. That was what had caused the needle marks on Nicola's thighs. He told the Court that when a patient's heart stops pumping, it is difficult to find a place to get a blood sample from.
Dr Aida told the Court that Nicola arrived at the hospital at 3.53am. He tried to resuscitate her by performing a heart massage, lung compression and an adrenalin injection. When that didn't work, he put a tube down her throat. But it was too late. He pronounced her dead five minutes later.
The Court heard that Nicola’s blood tested positive for Xanax and Lidocaine. Lidocaine was in her system because a gel was put on a tube that was inserted into Nicola's respiratory tract in an attempt to save her life. The level of Xanax in her blood was low. Nicola had been prescribed with Xanax when she was in Ireland as she was anxious and worried about going to Japan. It was prescribed to her to help her to remain calm.
Nicki Minaj Tweet
The Prosecution asked the Court to give Richard a ten year prison sentence. At the time of the murder, he was a minor under Japanese law. The lead Prosecutor in the case, Kenji Horikoshi, told the Court that Richard had shown no remorse and had tried to portray Nicola as promiscuous which had violated her dignity.
He told the Court that he deserved the death penalty but said because he is a minor under Japanese criminal law he could only be given a custodial sentence.
The Tokyo District Court sentenced Richard Hinds to a maximum of ten years with the possibility that he could be released after five years. The panel of Judges, which included a total of nine Judges, said that the murder was atrocious and vicious in nature. They said that Richard's version of events was simply not credible.The Judge, Judge Masaharu Ashizawa, said:
"The tendency of sentencing in juvenile crimes means we cannot choose the death penalty or life sentence."
Throughout the entire Trial, Nicola's mother Angela never once took her eyes off Richard. Richard addressed Angela and Andrew in the Court:
"I look dead in your eyes today and tell you that your daughter did not suffer. I do not want to break your heart any more than it is. Mrs Furlong, it truly saddens my heart to see you crying."
Richard told them that he had helped Nicola by refusing to leave her semi conscious in the bar. He told them that he prayed for them:
"not as my enemy, not as my accusers, but the same as my family and friends”.
Richard told them he was glad they shared the same belief in God:
“It takes faith for you to believe in God even though you have never seen him, so it takes the very same faith to believe these words coming out of my mouth."
As part of his sentence, Richard was told he would have to work in silence in the Japanese prison for 5,000 yen a month.
After Richard served five years in prison, Japanese officials refused to release him. They said that even though he underwent a five year “regime of classes and interviews” , he had not been rehabilitated. The program at Fuchu Prison was designed to create a sense of remorse for the murder, but officials only have a moderate expectation that he will be rehabilitated due to his attitude when serving his sentence.
James Blackston was sentenced to three years for assaulting Nicola’s friend. He was released after he served his sentence.
Nicola Furlong's Funeral
At Nicola's funeral, the Parish Priest, Fr Jim Fitzpatrick said:
"She will always be the centre of your lives, where she stood for everything that was good. We are unable to say goodbye in this case as we are particularly saddened and perturbed by the manner in which Nicola was taken from us. This life has been more tragically and violently cut short- 21 years of life ended in the blink of an eye and we are left holding the pieces. The Nicola you all knew and loved had so much ability, so much energy, so much charisma, so much to offer in this life. So we grieve also not just for the loss of life but for what might have been."
When a young woman like Nicola is murdered, it causes a ripple effect in the lives of family members, friends, the community. Of course, the most significant and devastating ripple effect is the one it has on the family. The loss and devastation caused changes the course of all of their lives. The pain will never end. The damage is incalculable. The lack of remorse and the lack of justice is unforgivable.
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