American gets 3 years for assault of Irish student

AP News
Posted: Mar 13, 2013 5:53 AM

TOKYO (AP) — The friend of an American on trial in the murder of an Irish exchange student in Tokyo was convicted Wednesday of sexually assaulting the woman she was with on the night she died.

Tokyo District Court found James Blackston guilty and sentenced him to three years in prison. Prosecutors had asked for a four-year sentence.

Blackston, a 23-year-old dancer from Los Angeles, was accused of assaulting the woman in a taxi on the way to a Tokyo hotel last May after he and Richard Hinds took her and Nicola Furlong out drinking.

Hinds, of Memphis, Tennessee, is on trial separately on charges of murdering Furlong in another room at the hotel. Testimony in Hinds' trial ended Wednesday and a verdict is expected March 19.

According to testimony in both trials, Furlong and her friend, who is also Irish but whose name is being withheld, came to Tokyo to see a Nicki Minaj concert. After the concert, the two met Hinds and Blackston and went with them to a bar. At some point both of the women passed out. Prosecutors have suggested they were drugged.

Security camera footage presented as evidence showed Blackston sexually assaulting Furlong's friend in a taxi on the way to the hotel, where the men borrowed wheelchairs to get the unconscious women to the rooms.

Prosecutors say Hinds strangled Furlong, a Dublin City University student from Curracloe, Co Wexford, with a towel to keep her quiet after she regained consciousness. Hinds denies the charges.

Hinds was 19 and a minor under Japanese law when he was arrested, but is being tried in an adult court.

Although murder in Japan can carry the death penalty, prosecutors are seeking a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment for Hinds.