Bill Hawker, the father of murdered British teacher Lindsay Hawker, speaks to reporters in Chiba
A Japanese man was sentenced to life imprisonment on Thursday for raping and killing Briton Lindsay Hawker and burying her naked body in a sand-filled bathtub, in a case that horrified Japan and sparked a media frenzy.
Tatsuya Ichihashi, 32, who was living in the apartment where the 22-year-old English teacher's body was found in 2007, eluded a massive manhunt for nearly three years after fleeing when police arrived at his apartment to question him. He mutilated his face to change his appearance, reports Reuters.
"We can assume that the defendant had an intention to murder the victim when he put pressure on her neck," said presiding judge Masaya Hotta of Chiba District Court, near Tokyo.
"It is impossible to measure the victim's regret, having to end in such a devastating situation her 22-year-old life that was filled with many possibilities," Hotta said.
Ichihashi said in earlier sessions of the trial he did not assault Hawker and denied he intended to kill her, saying he was unaware he was suffocating her and tried to revive her.
Prosecutors had sought a life sentence, saying Ichihashi had raped and assaulted Hawker after tying her wrists and ankles together. They said he later suffocated her, fearing police would find out what he had done.
They rejected his argument that he tried to revive her and said he failed to call an ambulance.
Ichihashi, dressed in a black shirt and grey pants and with a mop of curly hair, showed little reaction as the sentence was passed. He appeared to be trying to bow to Hawker's parents as he was led out of the courtroom, but was stopped from doing so by guards.
Hawker's mother, Julia, wiped away tears and nodded several times as she listened to the verdict, while her father, William, occasionally stared at Ichihashi. They had called for the death sentence, but said after the trial they were satisfied with the verdict.
"We've waited four and a half years to get justice for Lindsay and we have achieved that today, and we are very pleased," William told reporters and thanked Japanese and British authorities for their work and support.
"Lindsay loved Japan, and you have not let her down. Thank you."
After Ichihashi's escape, police launched a nationwide search and offered a reward of 10 million yen (78,720.63 pounds) for information leading to his arrest.
A visit to a plastic surgeon ultimately led to his arrest in 2009 after the doctor contacted police. He was caught at a port in western Japan while waiting for a ferry to the southern island of Okinawa.
A former student of horticulture, Ichihashi wrote a book about his life on the run, including living on a remote island and spending his days fishing. The book, published this year, was a bestseller and Ichihashi wanted earnings from it go to Hawker's family or charity.
About 950 people lined up for about 60 seats in the court to hear the verdict, and the courthouse was filled with Japanese and British media.
"What can we do to clear the sorrow of the victim's family?" said Megumi Ishikawa, a 48-year-old housewife who was at the courthouse. "As a Japanese, I feel sorry for the victim, who had good feelings for Japan."