The Tokyo District Court has sentenced US musician Richard Hinds (19) to a maximum of 10 years for strangling Irish exchange student Nicola Furlong.
Delivering the guilty verdict, a nine-member panel of judges called the murder last May 24th "atrocious and vicious in nature" and said Hinds’s account of what happened was "not credible."
"The defendant has continually given irrational explanations in his defence that have dishonoured the victim," said the lead judge Masaharu Ashizawa, delivering a verdict of "not less than five and no more than 10 years," with labour.
The sentence was the maximum allowed under Japan ese law because Hinds is a minor. "The tendency of sentencing in juvenile crimes (means) we cannot choose the death penalty or life sentence," said the judge, acknowledging that the Furlong family's demand for harsher sentencing was "very understandable."
Hinds did not react when the verdict was read out but turned to smile and acknowledge his family as he walked out of the court.
Ms Furlong’s mother Angela appeared to cry and shake during the long explanation for sentencing. Afterwards she called the decision "a travesty."
"It’s not enough, given the pain he caused Nicola," she said. "We’re not leaving here believing we have justice. We still don’t know the truth of what happened in that hotel room."
Her daughter Andrea said she was "disgusted" by the sentencing. "I just want to leave Japan, go home and never return," she said. Nicola’s father Andrew told reporters he "never wanted to hear" the name Richard Hinds again.
Hinds argued throughout the two-week trial that Ms Furlong (21), from Co Wexford, had voluntarily gone to the Keio Plaza Hotel with the defendant and willingly engaged in "rough sex". His defence said that a "synergistic combination" of alcohol and a prescription drug found in her bloodstream could have caused her death.
But today’s verdict said the concentration of Alprazolam, the active ingredient in the anxiety suppressant Xanax, was "well below" the normal prescription range and could not have been a factor in Ms Furlong’s death.
"The victim was still breathing and her heart was still beating at the time she was being choked," it said. "Death was caused by suffocation after strangulation by a towel or ligature. This is certain, based on common sense."
The verdict accepted that Hinds had tried to help Ms Furlong after the strangulation but said this was "only natural" and "did not mitigate" the fact that he intended to murder her.
"The defendant knew that what he was doing was highly dangerous and could lead to death. [He] also knew what the results of his actions would be. It can be concluded that he intended to kill the victim."
Hinds’s friend, James Blackston (23) was sentenced last week to three years with labour for assaulting Ms Furlong’s Irish friend on the night of the murder. He is an adult under Japanese law.
Hinds will likely serve out his time in a Japanese prison, working in a small factory for about 5,000 yen (€40) a month. His sentencing leaves open the possibility that with good behaviour he could be released in five years.