The lobby of the Keio Plaza Hotel has for years been a symbol of Tokyo’s prosperity and openness, where well-heeled foreign tourists mix with local travellers on their way up to twin towers overlooking the city centre. Near midnight on May 23rd, 2012, two foreign guests returned here in a taxi with a pair of unconscious women. Security cameras caught the men ferrying the slumped women across the lobby in hotel wheelchairs and into an elevator to the rooms above. One of the women was 21-year-old Irish exchange student Nicola Furlong.
A few hours later, Furlong was dead, strangled in room 1427, by Richard Hinds. In court, Hinds, an American musician touring Japan, gave lurid, discredited testimony in which he said that he and his colleague James Blackston had been hit on by Furlong and her Irish friend who wanted to “party”. Hinds claimed he throttled Furlong after she indicated she wanted rough sex. A jury dismissed these claims and Hinds was sentenced to not less than five and no more than 10 years with labour for Furlong’s murder.
The Furlong family, from Curracloe, Co Wexford, is now bracing for the release of their daughter’s killer in mid-November. Hinds has served the full term after reportedly showing no remorse for his crime, which he still denies. Japan’s justice ministry said recently he has only a moderate chance of rehabilitation. Angie Furlong, Nicola’s mother, says she is trying not to think about the looming release. “I’m kind of pushing it out of my head at the minute,” she told The Irish Times.
During an official visit to Tokyo in June, Taoiseach Micheál Martin suggested the Furlong family should be consulted before Hinds is freed. “Justice is never served, in my view, when somebody is murdered,” he said. “I’ve met parents in similar situations, and the grief and the disruption and the destruction of their lives has been a life sentence for them, much more at times than the actual person who did the deed. My own sense is that the authorities, whether in Japan or Ireland, have to take the victims more into account.”
In fact, the Furlong family is contacted by Japanese authorities twice a year from Fuchu Prison in western Tokyo, and will be informed of Hinds’ release date. But although Masaharu Ashizawa, the lead judge in the court that convicted Hinds, acknowledged that the Furlongs’ demand for harsher sentencing was “very understandable”, the government’s hands are legally tied: Hinds has served the maximum allowed under Japanese law because he was a minor – 19 – at the time of the murder.
Blackston, a touring dancer and choreographer who was convicted of sexually assaulting Furlong’s friend during the taxi ride to the Keio Plaza, was released in September 2015 and has since returned to his life in Los Angeles. Recent media reports claimed he is engaged to be married. Hinds will be deported from Japan on or before November 19th and will almost certainly follow the same path back to the United States.
The Furlongs quietly memorialised their daughter on the 10th anniversary of her death in May. Angie Furlong told RTÉ she works throughout each fresh anniversary “because I can’t sit at the graveyard all day anymore”. In 2018, Nicola’s father Andrew opened a memorial garden called Cuan Aingeal (Angel Harbour) in Wexford, built in Nicola’s honour for parents grieving the loss of children.
Both parents sat through the trial in 2013 during which they were played a leering, predatory conversation between Hinds and Blackston recorded by the taxi’s surveillance camera. “These b***hes fell into our lap,” says one of the men. “We gotta keep them f**ked up,” says Hinds. Blackston then said: “We are going to f**k them.” At one stage the men exchange fist bumps. Judge Ashizawa called Hinds’ defence of his actions “irrational” and said it had “dishonoured” Furlong.
Furlong’s friend, referred to in court as Victim A, testified that she and Nicola had asked Hinds and Blackston for directions to Shibuya, an entertainment district in central Tokyo, after attending a concert. She said they ended up in a bar where she began to black out after drinking a shot of tequila bought by the men. “All I remember is having the second shot and after that I don’t remember anything,” she told the court. The men were apparently unaware they were being filmed during the short taxi ride to the hotel.
For most of his trial, Hinds sat head bowed, trying to avoid the glare of Angie, Andrew and their daughter Andrea who sat a few feet away. “I don’t take my eyes off him,” Angie Furlong told The Irish Times after the trial began, as though searching his impassive face for answers, which have never come.