Family of student killed in Tokyo face suspect in Japanese court


THE FAMILY of Irish exchange student Nicola Furlong have faced her alleged killer for the first time in a Japanese courtroom.

The 19-year-old American man is charged with strangling Ms Furlong (21) in an upmarket Tokyo hotel in May.

Andrew Furlong heard prosecutors’ opening arguments in the case yesterday with Nicola’s mother Angela and their daughter, Andrea, by their side.

The first hearings are taking place in a family court because the suspect, who cannot be named in Japan, is a juvenile under Japanese law.

A judge is due to rule by today on whether he can be tried in a criminal court.

Mr Furlong, who is on his second trip to Tokyo since his daughter’s death, afterwards described the experience as “very emotional”.

“I didn’t sleep a wink last night,” he said. “But for some reason I’m not as bad as I was the first time I was here.

“Perhaps it’s because Nicola would have been coming home around now and we’re taking her spirit home with us.”

Japanese authorities have told the Furlongs not to discuss the hearings. Journalists have been barred from reporting inside the courtroom.

“He’s a minor so the slightest thing could affect the case,” explained Mr Furlong.

The family is known to have given the court a statement describing the impact of the killing on their lives – standard practice in Japanese trials relating to serious crimes.

They also have heard the first detailed police report on Nicola’s death.

They will be back in court this morning to hear the judge’s decision on whether the suspect can be tried in a criminal court.

Because of the suspect’s age – one year from the age of criminal responsibility – and the serious nature of the crime, the court is expected to refer the case back to prosecutors and recommend a criminal trial.

Sources close to the case say the American, who is described in court documents as a professional musician, has no criminal record in Japan or the US. But he is very unlikely to be granted bail until the verdict.

A spokesman for the US embassy in Tokyo said American officials would let local justice takes its course and not get involved in the trial.

Ms Furlong died at the Shinjuku Plaza Hotel in central Tokyo on May 24th after she attended a concern by rapper Nicki Minaj with an Irish friend.

The Furlongs are due to return to their home in Curracloe, Co Wexford this weekend.

“I’ve never been in a situation like this,” Mr Furlong added. “I’ve lost people, but never one of my own. I never thought I’d be in this situation.”