Today was the second day in the hearing of the Nicola Furlong case. The preliminary hearings were held to decide whether the 19-year-old American man accused of murdering Ms Furlong should stand trial as a juvenile or an adult.
The father of Nicola Furlong left the Tokyo Family Court Thursday “delighted” by the ruling that the man accused of killing his daughter in a Tokyo hotel in May will be tried as an adult.
Although advised not to reveal details of the case, Andrew Furlong said after the hearings: “We are very happy with the outcome and the handling of the case so far,” said Mr. Furlong, who was accompanied by Nicola’s sister Andrea and her mother Angela.
We have the utmost respect for the judicial system in Japan, so do not want to risk doing anything counter to that, but if you read between the lines you can probably figure it out. We’re delighted.”
The reaction suggests that the accused man, allegedly 19-year-old Richard Hinds from Memphis, who is a minor under Japanese law, will be tried as an adult in the criminal courts rather than face milder charges – up to a maximum of 5 years in jail — as a juvenile.
Today’s proceedings followed on from yesterday’s hearing, when details of the crime and a statement from the family were heard in order to determine whether or not the case would be returned to the prosecutor’s office – a move that experts say was paying lip service to a process that all but seals a criminal trial.
Once again the Furlongs were placed in the same room as the accused and once again the American’s face was turned away from the family to prevent any eye contact.
Lawyer Kaoru Haraguchi said that the court would have weighed up whether or not a 19-year-old in a si,ilar case would be considered by society to be “equal to an adult” in light of the criminal act he or she performed.
According to another legal specialist, who is also unconnected to the case, but requested he not be named, almost all such murder cases ended up in the criminal courts, especially when the accused was approaching adulthood.
Ultimately this means that the accused can face the same punishments that an adult would face, including the death penalty, he said. “That would be unusual, but not unthinkable.”
Juveniles in Japan have been known to be sentenced to death here. In February this year the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty for a man convicted of strangling and then raping a young mother and murdering her 11-month-old daughter in 1999 in Yamaguchi Prefecture when he was 18.
It is likely that the Furlongs will be waiting some time to discover the outcome of the case here, as fastidious procedures can mean court cases drag on for some time.
Yesterday, Mr Furlong admitted the experience of being in the same room as the accused killer – who is thought to have strangled Nicola with a towel or rope — had left him and his family in a state of emotional turmoil.
All I can say is that all three of us are extremely emotional at this time. It was far, far worse than anything we ever imagined. I sincerely hope that no other parent ever has to go through anything like this.”
Today, however the weariness had largely disappeared from Mr Furlong’s face as he admitted that he and his family will raise a glass in the evening to salute today’s outcome and “acknowledge the 21 years of a lovely girl.”
Mr Furlong added that the family was also looking forward to flying back home to Ireland on Saturday, the very day that Nicola was due to return home from Japan after a one-year study exchange from Dublin City University.
She’ll be with us on that plane. We’ll be taking her spirit home with us,” he said.