A Japanese man admitted in court yesterday to raping and strangling a young British woman, but the man who attempted cosmetic surgery on his own face to evade a nationwide manhunt said he never meant to kill the 22-year-old.
Tatsuya Ichihashi is charged with murdering English teacher Lindsay Ann Hawker at his apartment in 2007. The case became one of Japan’s highest-profile murders after Hawker’s body was found in a dirt-filled bathtub on the balcony of Ichihashi’s apartment.
At the opening of his trial yesterday, he said he raped Hawker and caused her death, but said he didn’t mean to kill her, as prosecutors charge.
“I did not intend to kill her, but I am responsible for her death,” Ichihashi told the court as Hawker’s father looked on impassively. “I am very sorry for what I did.”
The victim’s parents, who flew to Tokyo to attend the trial, left yestday’s court session without commenting to reporters.
Hawker, of Brandon, England, was in Japan to teach English. She worked as an instructor at a language school, and agreed to give Ichihashi a private lesson on the side.
After the lesson Ichihashi persuaded Hawker to go back to his apartment in Ichikawa City, east of the capital, where the crimes occurred. He went on the run after police found her body, at one point fleeing past officers as they questioned his neighbors.
Ichihashi evaded police for more than two years despite a national manhunt, in which a reward of 10 million yen ($123,000) was offered for tips leading to his arrest and wanted posters were posted nationwide.
In a book published after his eventual arrest in 2009, Ichihashi described his life on the run, including how he scissored off his lower lip, dug two moles out of his cheek with a box cutter and even gave himself a nose job in an attempt to obscure his identity.
He doesn’t describe the crime or his motives in the book, “Until the Arrest,” instead detailing his life at large, during which he traveled up and down the country, in constant fear of arrest and obsessed with cosmetic surgery.
His attempts to change his appearance eventually led to his arrest, after the staff at a clinic where he had surgery on his nose became suspicious and reported him to police.
He was later caught at a ferry terminal, and his appearance had changed to the point where investigators had to verify his identity using his fingerprints.
At his trial, the defense argued that Ichihashi tried to revive Hawker after suffocating her by accident in an attempt to keep her from crying out for help from the neighbors. He admitted to tying her up and raping her.
Prosecutors have not yet entered a sentencing demand, though the crime could bring the death penalty.
A verdict is expected by July 21.