CHIBA - Charged with raping and killing Briton Lindsay Ann Hawker in 2007 and on the run for more than 2-1/2 years, public and media attention focused on commentary from defendant Tatsuya Ichihashi at the first hearing of his lay-judge trial.
Shortly before 1:20 p.m. Monday, Ichihashi entered the courtroom and made a surprise move. He prostrated himself in the direction of Hawker's parents, who were seated behind prosecutors. Urged by an officer accompanying him, the 32-year-old defendant stood up and bowed twice before sitting down.
On the first day of the trial at the Chiba District Court, Ichihashi denied he intended to kill the 22-year-old English teacher.
However, he apologized, saying: "I scared her and caused her death. I'm deeply sorry about that."
"It's my duty to explain to the court what happened on the day of the incident," he added.
In their opening statement, prosecutors claimed that Ichihashi saw Hawker on a train and ran after her as she cycled home at night on March 20, 2007. He then asked her for a glass of water and convinced Hawker to let him into her home. He obtained her contact information by pleading with her to teach him English.
It was then agreed via an e-mail that Hawker would give him an hourlong lesson for 3,500 yen. On March 25, Ichihashi plotted to entice Hawker to his apartment after an English lesson at a coffee shop in front of Gyotoku Station in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture. He intended to sexually assault her, the prosecutors said.
According to the prosecutors, Ichihashi told Hawker at the lesson he had forgotten the payment and persuaded her to collect it from his apartment, after which he assaulted and killed Hawker by strangling her for about three minutes.
"[Ichihashi's] motive to murder Hawker was to prevent the assault from coming to light," a prosecutor said.
Meanwhile, Ichihashi's lawyers claimed the two went to his apartment by taxi as Ichihashi did not have money to pay the lesson fees. Ichihashi asked the taxi driver to wait for five to six minutes, but the driver refused to do so.
The lawyers said that after raping Hawker, Ichihashi felt regret. When he began thinking how he could get her home, Hawker screamed and tried to flee. This prompted him to seize her to stop her from screaming, the lawyers said, adding that she then stopped moving.
They also claimed Ichihashi should be only accused of rape and injury resulting in death as he performed artificial respiration on her.
Hawker's parents William and Julia covered their eyes with handkerchiefs when a photo showing their daughter's body was displayed on a monitor. Holding photos of the victim, Lindsay's sisters also shed tears, patting each other on the shoulders and arms.
Reporters from British newspapers and wire agencies such as AP were present in court to cover the trial.
Five more hearings, including a final session on July 12, will be held before a ruling is handed down on July 21.