American guilty in Irish student's murder in Tokyo

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TOKYO (AP) - A 19-year-old American musician was convicted and sentenced to at least five years in prison Tuesday for murdering an Irish exchange student after he drank with her until she passed out and used a wheelchair to take her, unconscious, to the hotel room where she died.

Richard Hinds, of Memphis, Tennessee, stood silently as he was found guilty of strangling Nicola Furlong in what the presiding judge called a "vicious" attack. He was ordered to serve no less than five but no more than 10 years in a Japanese prison.

Hinds and another American were accused of taking Furlong, 21, and one of her friends to the hotel after they had passed out in a bar. The Tokyo District Court ruled that Hinds strangled Furlong when she regained consciousness to keep her quiet.

The other man, James Blackston, was convicted last week of sexually assaulting Furlong's friend.

During the two-week trial, prosecutors said Hinds and Blackston met Furlong and her friend after a concert last May. The four went to bar, where both of the women passed out, allegedly because their drinks were drugged.

Security camera footage submitted as evidence showed Blackston molesting Furlong's friend in the backseat of the taxi on the way. Hinds watched and egged on Blackston from the front seat.

Using wheelchairs borrowed from hotel staff, the men then took the unconscious women to separate rooms. The court ruled that when Furlong regained consciousness, Hinds strangled her with a towel or a piece of clothing, allegedly to keep her quiet.

Hinds denied intent to kill, though he acknowledged "lightly" pressing on her neck.

"The manner in which he committed this crime was atrocious and vicious in nature," Presiding Judge Masaharu Ashizawa said.

Hinds was a minor under Japanese law when Furlong died, but was tried in an adult court. Although Japan has the death penalty, the maximum sentence for a murder committed by a minor is 10 years.

Blackston, a 23-year-old dancer from Los Angeles, was sentenced to three years in prison for the sexual assault of Furlong's friend.

Furlong's mother, Angela, said Hinds' sentence was too lenient.

"Her life is worth more than that," she said after the verdict was read. "But at least her name was cleared. She didn't do anything wrong."

Furlong, a Dublin City University student, was in Japan as an exchange student at a university near Tokyo.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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