CHIBA, Japan (AP) — A man was sentenced to life in prison Thursday for raping and killing a young British teacher in Japan four years ago, closing one of the country’s highest-profile criminal cases after he evaded arrest for years and even cut his face to avoid being identified.
The Chiba District Court ordered Tatsuya Ichihashi to spend life behind bars for killing 22-year-old English teacher Lindsay Hawker, whose body was found in a dirt-filled bathtub on Ichihashi’s apartment balcony outside Tokyo.
The judge said Ichihashi showed no respect for her life and committed a heinous crime but at age 32, still has a slight chance of being rehabilitated. He could have been sentenced to death by hanging. Hawker’s father, who had said the family wanted the maximum punishment, said after the verdict they were pleased to finally get justice.
Ichihashi evaded a nationwide police search for two and half years and wrote a book after his 2009 arrest describing his time on the run and the extensive cosmetic surgery he underwent to change his appearance.
Ichihashi said when his trial began on July 4 that he had enticed Hawker into his apartment, raped and then strangled her because he feared her screams would prompt neighbors to call the police. Although he confessed to causing her death, he said he did not plan to murder Hawker and that he did not remember when he actually strangled her.
Judge Masaya Hotta, however, said Ichihashi had a clear murder intent because he suffocated her to death hours later when she started calling for help and demanded he release her. Hotta said it was “common sense” for anyone to assume that blocking one’s airway for several minutes would cause a death.
“The victim was raped, with her dignity violated and life taken away while going through unbearable pain. At age 22, her future was taken away,” the judge said in a closing statement. “The defendant showed no respect to her life and the crime is heinous.”
Hawker’s parents and two daughters flew from England to attend the trial. Hawker’s father had said they hoped Ichihashi would get the strongest punishment possible. Yet, William Hawker said afterward he was pleased with the verdict.
“We have waited for four and half years to get justice for Lindsay, and we’ve achieved that today,” he told reporters outside the court. “We are very pleased.”
The judge said the anger and sadness of the family who lost their beloved daughter should be considered and it was “only natural” for them to have sought a death penalty for the killer.
Yet, he said that Ichihashi does not deserve death because he has no previous criminal record and has a slight chance to be corrected.
For more than two and half years after the 2007 murder, Ichihashi evaded arrest despite the intense manhunt, a reward of 10 million yen ($123,000) and wanted posters plastered across the country.
In his book “Until the Arrest,” published this year, Ichihashi described scissoring off his lower lip and digging two moles out of his cheek with a box cutter. He said he wore surgical masks to cover his face and lived in fear of being identified. He said he thought he would face a death sentence if caught.
He doesn’t describe the crime or his motives in the book. He had said he hoped to provide sales from the book to the Hawker family as a form of compensation. The family had rejected the offer, and the court said Thursday that the book only showed his life on the run and lacked sense of remorse.
His attempts to change his appearance eventually backfired. The staff at a clinic where he had surgery on his nose became suspicious and reported him to police.
The Hawkers apparently accepted the court’s decision and acknowledgment of their feelings, according to a lawyer representing the family.
“Lindsay loved Japan, and you have not let her down,” William Hawker said.