A JAPANESE man has admitted raping and strangling a young British woman whose battered body was found in a sand-filled bathtub, but said he never meant to kill her.
Tatsuya Ichihashi, 32, is charged with murdering English teacher Lindsay Ann Hawker, 22, at his apartment in 2007.
At the opening of his trial today, he said he raped Ms 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,” Mr Ichihashi told the court as Ms Hawker’s father looked on impassively.
“I’m the one who scared her and left her dead. I’m really, really sorry,” Mr Ichihashi said, according to Jiji Press.
The case became one of Japan’s highest-profile murders after Ms Hawker’s body was found in a sand-filled bathtub on the balcony of Ichihashi’s apartment.
Mr Ichihashi, 32, spent more than two-and-a-half years on the run, using false identities and even getting cosmetic surgery to avoid detection. He was finally arrested in 2009.
As he entered court, Mr Ichihashi knelt on the floor and deeply bowed twice to the family of Ms Hawker, who had travelled to Japan to attend the trial in Chiba district court outside Tokyo, public broadcaster NHK reported.
Mr Ichihashi, wearing black jeans and a black shirt, stopped short of revealing details of the killing, only saying tearfully: “During the trial, I will speak about what happened.”
Six citizen jurors and three professional judges were due to hear the high-profile case under Japan’s limited jury system.
The defence has claimed that Mr Ichihashi tried to revive Hawker after suffocating her by accident in an attempt to keep her from crying out for help from the neighbours.
Mr Ichihashi, however, admitted to tying her up and raping her.
Prosecutors have not yet entered a sentencing demand, though the crime could bring the death penalty.
Ms Hawker, from Brandon, England, was in Japan to teach English. She was killed after giving Mr Ichihashi a private language lesson at his home.
Her body – battered, naked and bound at the wrists and ankles with plastic cord – was found in the sand-filled bathtub on the balcony of Mr Ichihashi’s apartment.
The autopsy indicated she had died of suffocation.
Mr Ichihashi fled the scene of the crime in Ichikawa, Chiba, and went on the run, working in temporary jobs across the Japanese archipelago.
He used the money he earned with odd jobs to pay for multiple plastic surgery procedures, altering his eyelids and nose and having a facial mole removed in an effort to change his appearance.
Mr Ichihashi, whose wanted poster was a common sight at police and other public offices across the nation, was caught in November 2009 after a witness tip-off at an Osaka ferry terminal as he tried to catch a boat to Okinawa.
Ms Hawker’s parents, Bill and Julia, and her sister Lisa will be allowed to speak as prosecution witnesses during the opening session, and again before sentencing, expected on July 21.
Ms Hawker’s family has repeatedly visited Japan and often voiced frustration at police for failing to catch the suspect.
Police later raised a cash reward for information leading to his arrest to more than $US100,000.
The father said before leaving London’s Heathrow airport: “We’re a strong family and we’re going to see this through to the end. All we want is justice for Lindsay.”