‘I think about her all the time, I worry that when I get home I’m going to fall apart’
The Furlong family believe they will never learn the truth of what happened to Nicola
Nicola Furlong’s mother Angela and sister Andrea outside the Tokyo District Court this week during the trial of Richard Hinds. Photograph: Robert Gilhooly
Angela Furlong is trying to recall her darkest point in the trial of Richard Hinds, the man accused of murdering her daughter. Was it the moment she faced him in court after months of living in dread? The sight on grainy surveillance footage of her daughter Nicola (21), bundled unconscious into a taxi, a few hours before she died?
Or was it listening to defence lawyers say Nicola was a drug user who liked “rough sex” with strangers?
Angela thinks it was Hinds’s extraordinary, tearful outburst on Wednesday, when he turned directly to face her and Nicola’s father, Andrew, and said 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,” he told the clearly surprised pair, “so it takes the very same faith to believe these words coming out of my mouth.”
After eight days focusing what she calls her bitterness and anger on the Memphis keyboard player who sat impassively throughout a few feet away, the outburst came as a “complete shock”, she recalls.
“He was putting us in the same category as him and that made me angry.” Until that point, she says, he never looked at her or Andrew. “He’s probably ashamed. I only hope that he feels some sort of remorse.”
Prosecutors believe Nicola Furlong woke up as she was being sexually assaulted in Hinds’s hotel room and that he throttled her, probably with a bath towel or strap-like object.
A doctor testified that the Wexford woman died in “great distress” after being strangled for “minutes”. Hinds said throughout that a drunk and sexually aggressive Nicola had indicated that she wanted him to squeeze her neck, which he did “lightly”. At one point he described himself as a “gentleman” for following her wishes.
Whatever the verdict next week, Nicola’s mother thinks nobody will ever know what happened in room 1427 of the Plaza Hotel last May 24th.
“I think when he took the stand we all thought he was finally going to tell us the truth, but he didn’t, and we’re going home without it. I don’t expect to ever, ever learn the truth.”
Still, she has no regrets about coming over for the trial.
“I needed to be here. I didn’t want to be sitting at home, waiting to hear it on the newspapers or news. There’s very, very little I can do for her now. It’s like when I go out to her grave twice a day and I just keep tidying things up, moving things around. It’s all I can do for her.”
Since the trial ended on Wednesday, the Furlongs have been trying to decompress from the gruelling drama of the courtroom. Part of Angela’s pilgrimage to Japan was a trip this week to Takasaki City University of Economics, where her daughter was studying when she died.
“This is part of Nicola’s life that we wanted to connect with, and now all the little stories that she told me make sense to me.
“I can see her now going from her apartment to the post office on her bike, I know where she lived, how she went to college, I know the library she stood in. I wanted to see where she walked, where she went to school. There was a computer room where she used to work with maybe 20 seats and I just sat in it and thought, ‘this is where she used to sit’.”
Three days ago she fell asleep properly without pills, she says, for the first time since Nicola died. It was the result, perhaps of her cathartic outpouring of grief on Tuesday, when she broke down in the Tokyo District Court and told the nine judges she carries around a “heavy cloak of darkness”.
“It was a release. I have grieved, but not properly. I remember coming out of the church and seeing the light outside the church and the coffin and realising that she was going away from me. I lost it then.”
She adds: “I think about her all the time, what happened to her. I worry that when I get home I’m going to fall apart. Sometimes I look at myself and think, ‘I’m too little; I’m not strong enough to keep this going’. But I get up every morning and I put on the face and I walk out the door.
“When I leave Japan, I know I won’t be leaving this dark cloak behind me.”