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Japanese man guilty of killing British teacher; receives life sentence

By Kyung Lah, CNN
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Life sentence for murder of UK teacher
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ichihashi has admitted to raping and strangling Hawker
  • The case centers around whether he intended to do so
  • Officials: During the time he eluded arrest, Ichihashi underwent cosmetic surgery
  • The case has received wall-to-wall coverage in Japan

Tokyo (CNN) -- A Japanese man who admitted to raping and strangling a British teacher has been found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

Tatsuya Ichihashi was convicted Thursday of rape, murder and discarding a body after a month-long trial that riveted Japan in much the same way the Casey Anthony trial did the United States.

The victim Lindsay Hawker's battered, naked body was found in a bathtub in Ichihashi's apartment in March 2007 -- buried in sand.

Ichihashi then went on the run, altering his face through cosmetic surgery several times to elude arrest.

After he was arrested two and half years later, Ichihashi acknowledged killing Hawker. But the question at the center of the trial was whether he intended to.

Hawker's parents who were in Chiba District Court, east of Tokyo, for the verdict had asked prosecutors to hand down the harshest sentence: death.

The case began in March 2007 when surveillance video showed Ichihashi meeting up with Hawker at a coffee shop in the town of Ichikawa in Chiba Prefecture for an English lesson.

Japanese man guilty of killing teacher

Later, he told Hawker to follow him to his apartment so he could pay her, prosecutors said.

After the killing when police arrived to interview Ichihashi, he fled.

He snipped his own lips with a pair of scissors, cut off two moles and -- as he flitted from one construction job to another across the country -- he would drop in at clinics to undergo more cosmetic surgery, prosecutors said.

Authorities offered a 10 million yen reward ($127,000) reward for information leading to Ichihashi's capture. They finally caught up with him at a ferry terminal in the western Japanese city of Osaka in November 2009.

Ichihashi went on trial in July, amid wall-to-wall coverage in local media. Just as in the case of Casey Anthony -- the Florida mother who was accused and later acquitted of killing her 2-year-old daugther -- television stations offered play-by-play accounts of every development.

Before the verdict was read Thursday, hundreds of people lined up outside court to take part in a lottery that would allow 57 of them seats inside.