Furlong murder suspect due in court


THE MAIN suspect in the murder of Irish student Nicola Furlong is due to make his first appearance in a Tokyo court later this month.

The 19-year-old US citizen, who cannot be named in Japan because he is a minor, is charged with strangling Ms Furlong (21) in a Tokyo hotel in May.

Ms Furlong’s family will fly to Tokyo to attend the hearing.

It will be her father Andrew’s second trip to Japan since the killing. Last month he met detectives investigating his daughter’s death and visited the rural university where she was studying business and Japanese.

A second American man, James Blackston (23), who was detained for sexually assaulting Ms Furlong’s Irish friend, was rearrested on a separate charge last week. Tokyo detectives say cameras in the upmarket Tokyo Plaza Hotel recorded the 19-year-old suspect, who is described as a professional musician, using a wheelchair to carry an unconscious Ms Furlong to his room, where the alleged murder took place on May 24th.

Surveillance footage taken in a taxi also reportedly shows Mr Blackston assaulting Ms Furlong’s Irish friend on their way to the hotel. The court case will be initially heard in a family court, which deals with crimes by minors in Japan.

Family court judges in Japan have the power to dismiss cases without a hearing. The suspect’s age – close to the age of legal responsibility – and the serious nature of the crime, however, mean the judge is likely to recommend a criminal trial.

Sources close to the case say neither suspect has a criminal record. Both are likely to remain behind bars until judgment – Japan rarely grants bail to foreign suspects in serious crimes.

Police have still not released the results of toxicology reports to the media or Ms Furlong’s family. The court date is likely to shed more light on their suspicions the women’s drinks were spiked at a bar in central Tokyo before the assaults.

Trials in Japan are often lengthy affairs, stretched out over a series of hearings in which prosecutors present their case to a panel of judges and defence lawyers. Once criminal cases reach the courtroom, conviction is almost certain.

Japan retains the death penalty but it is unlikely to be applied in this case. Courts almost invariably reserve it for multiple murders.

The Irish Embassy in Tokyo declined to discuss the case other than to say it is continuing to offer full consular assistance to the Furlong family.

A source close to the family said Mr Furlong will be travelling to Tokyo from his home in Curracloe, Co Wexford, with his surviving daughter and ex-wife.