Fujita Murder Trial Live Blog: Prosecution Closes Case, Defense Calls First Witness
Wayland man Nathaniel Fujita is facing first-degree murder charges arising from the death of Lauren Astley, also of Wayland, in 2011.
Editor's Note: Wayland Patch will post regular updates from the courtroom at Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn. The most recent updates will be at the top of the story with a time stamp. For more about this case and trial, see "Wayland Murder: Nathaniel Fujita Trial."
11:44 a.m. -- "We are out of witnesses for the day," Judge Lauriat told jurors when court reconvened. "We anticipate the closing arguments of the attorneys ... possibly Monday, certainly Tuesday," he continued.
The judge is adjourning court for the day. We'll start a bit late Friday to accommodate a juror who has a conflict. Court is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m.
The jury was dismissed at 11:44 a.m., and the attorneys met in sidebar with the judge.
11:19 a.m. -- McGovern asked whether the defendant's sister is now attending school, performing in the school ballet and living at home.
Saba replied that was true and that the sister hadn't been hospitalized at any other time apart from the one mentioned earlier.
McGovern asked whether Saba remembered saying in an earlier statement that Fujita didn't like spending time with his parents and siblings. After showing Saba documentation of her previous testimony, the witness agreed that she had said that.
In the spring of 2011, Saba agreed, she made comments about Fujita being "sad" about his breakup with Astley.
"I did know that he would make it to the gym," Saba said, when McGovern asked whether she was aware Fujita kept the gym schedule of his own accord, without anyone pushing him.
On the day of the cookout, Saba said, she didn't notice anything unusual about Fujita that day.
He socialized and didn't cause any disturbance at the cookout, McGovern asked.
Saba said that was true.
Saba then testified that she knew Fujita had a landscaping job that summer.
After the cookout, Saba said, the next time she saw Fujita was at about 6 p.m. on July 4.
On July 4, Saba said, she saw Fujita at her home for about eight hours prior to his arrest and saw him interact with people in the home, including her daughter's boyfriend.
"You did read the Bible to him and you did have a conversation with him, correct?" McGovern asked.
"Correct," Saba said.
Saba said she didn't hear Fujita say anything about Astley in the time he spent at her house on July 4. She did see him eating in her kitchen.
McGovern concluded her cross-examination with that and we are taking a brief recess.
11:05 a.m. -- The defense called Joyce Saba, the defendant's aunt, as his first witness.
Saba is the sister of Beth Fujita, the defendant's mother. She is married to Philip Saba, who testified earlier, and is the mother of Caroline Saba, who also testified earlier.
"We're very close," Saba said of her sister, Beth Fujita. She continued to say that the talk daily, sometimes multiple times a day.
Sullivan asked Saba to describe the defendant prior to 2011.
"I would describe Nathaniel as sweet, honest, athletic, quiet," Saba said.
Saba testified that when she lived in Wayland, prior to moving to her current residence in Framingham, she would stop by the Fujita home about three times a week and would drive by it daily. While living in Wayland, Saba said, she lived across from Cochituate Field, 10 houses east of the current Fujita home.
Saba said that she saw Astley "100 times or more" during the time that her nephew was dating Astley.
Sullivan asked whether Saba had seen Astley driving a red Jeep, which she said that she had.
Saba testified that she saw Astley's Jeep parked in the driveway at the Fujita's or down toward the end of the fence on multiple occasions.
Sullivan asked whether the Jeep when parked along the back by the fence was visible from the Fujita home, and Saba replied that it was not.
Sullivan then asked whether Saba knew Davis Mattingly, a great uncle, which Saba said she knew.
Sullivan asked whether Saba knew if he had some form of mental illness, and Saba said she did. Saba said that later in his life she witnessed Mattingly exhibit behavior that she believed to be that consistent with paranoid schizaphrenia.
Another great uncle, Salvatore Minerala (spelling uncertain), Saba said lived in the same building as she and Beth Fujita at one time. During that time, she learned that he was also a paranoid schizophrenia.
In 2010, Saba testified, she visited the defendant's sister in the child psychiatric unit at the hospital. Saba said the sister was hospitalized for eight days and the put in a "step-down" program.
Moving to the summer of 2011, Saba said she stopped by the Fujita residence about three times per week and would talk to her daily.
"Nathaniel was withdrawn and seemed depressed," Saba said of the defendant's demeanor in the summer of 2011. "There was an extreme change in his behavior. In 2010, he was very engaged and active with friends -- social, going out all the time."
Sullivan then asked whether Saba knew that Fujita played in a softball league in the summer of 2009 and 2010. She replied that he did play and, at the time, appeared "confident, happy."
Saba then said she talked with her daughter, Caroline Saba, and Beth Fujita about their observations of Fujita in May and June 2011. She also testified that she searched the Interent for information about the symptoms she observed in Fujita.
Saba said she also called Lisa Venuto, her step-daughter, to ask what she could do for Fujita. Saba said she suggested to her step-daughter to have Fujita come over and look after the Venuto kids in order to "get him motivated again."
Saba said she had no concern about Fujita playing with and caring for the two young boys.
In one conversation with Fujita about his breakup with Astley, Saba said:
"I was encouraging him that he would meet many girls in his lifetime and that he needed to start looking toward Trinity and going away and starting fresh," Saba said.
She said his response was "fairly quiet," and he seemed "pretty sad."
Saba said that she knew Beth Fujita had had a conversation with Astley at Natick Mall about Nathaniel Fujita.
Toward the end of June 2011, Saba said, she continued to visit the Fujita home regularly.
"I knew that he was not getting out," Saba said. "He was not himself. He seemed very quiet."
Saba said that she encouraged her daughter to include Fujita in "some activities." Saba said she specifically mentioned inviting Fujita on the July 2, 2011, trip to the Cape.
Prior to the July 3 cookout, Saba said she reminded her husband and daughter to keep things "upbeat" with Fujita and not talk about the breakup, rather focus on future things.
Saba said the Fujita family arrived at the cookout about 3 p.m.
At about 6 p.m., Saba said, Fujita indicated that he wanted to try and "make it to GNC." He asked Caroline Saba, the witness said, to go along.
"Did you have any concerns about her going with him at that point? Did he seem angry," Sullivan asked.
"No," Joyce Saba responded.
She said that Fujita left on his own, the other party guests left at about 7 p.m., and Tomo and Beth Fujita left about 8 p.m.
In the time between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., Beth Fujita received a phone call, Saba said.
The next day, July 3, Saba said, she and her husband received a text from Tomo Fujita and subsequently went to pick him up at the Wayland Police Department.
Saba said in the midst of this, she texted and attempted to call Beth Fujita. Phil and Joyce Saba arrived back at their Framingham home at about 5:45 p.m. and Beth Fujita and the defendant arrived a short time later.
"Beth was devastated," Saba said. "She wasn't speaking. Just despondant.
"He seemed just flat," she continued. "He was quiet." Saba said that she hugged Nathaniel Fujita and they "expressed that they loved each other."
Sullivan concluded his questioning at that time and McGovern began her cross-examination.
9:57 a.m. -- Mary Dunne, Lauren Astley's mother, took the stand and was asked to identify a photo.
"That's my only child," Dunne replied, her voice shaking. "That's a senior portrait, so it would have been taken the summer before senior year," Dunne explained.
McGovern published a photo of a smiling Astley for the jury and then asked Dunne how Astley spent her time in her senior year.
"Lauren sang from the time that she was 4 in the church choir to the time that she was a senior in high school in her all-female a cappella group," Dunne said.
Dunne said that her daughter was about 5 feet tall and weighed just under 100 pounds at the time of her death.
Prior to Astley's death, Dunne said, she did not know that her daughter had gotten back together with Fujita.
Dunne said she helped chaperone a June 4, 2011, graduation party at the Balhut home. Before the party, Dunne said, that Astley approached her visibly upset.
Dunne said that the two of them went to talk with Fujita.
"I told Nathaniel that he needed to settle down," Dunne said. "They were no longer together and this was her graduation party and she deserved to enjoy herself."
Fujita replied, Dunne said, that he hadn't done anything.
Dunne told Fujita, she testified, that he would be asked to leave if she received any more complaints about him.
Dunne said that her daughter approached her again later, crying, and Dunne went inside and called Beth Fujita, the defendant's mother, to ask her to come pick up her son.
When Beth Fujita arrived, Dunne said she told Nathaniel Fujita that his mother had arrived and he needed to leave. Dunne said she watched him walk down the driveway.
"He walked just fine down the driveway," Dunne said. "I didn't notice any swaying."
Dunne said she saw Fujita the next day at the graduation ceremony, but didn't speak with him.
Dunne said that the last time she saw her daughter was on July 2, 2011, when they had a small meal together at the mall and she walked Astley back to her job.
Throughout Dunne's testimony, Fujita sat with his head deeply bowed, nearly laying on the table.
Sullivan declined to cross-examine Dunne and she stepped down.
With that the prosecution rested.
As the attorneys met in sidebar, Fujita sobbed openly at the defendant's table. He continued to gasp and sigh as the judge called a short recess for the morning.
His mother, Beth Fujita, also cried on the bench behind the defendant's table.
9:44 a.m. -- The jury entered at 9:15 a.m. and the judge thanked them for being prompt.
Chief Medical Examiner Henry Nields took the stand.
Defense attorney William Sullivan asked Nields about his testimony from yesterday.
"It would be fair to say there were no bruises or injuries other than those you told us about yesterday?" Sullivan said.
Nields replied that he noticed some abrasions on Lauren Astley's knees that he believes were sustained after her death.
Sullivan asked Nields to reiterate that there was no indication of sexual assault, to which Nields concurred.
Returning to the question of the petechial hemorrhages, Nields explained again that those hemorrhages indicate that there was some arterial flow allowed, but the venous flow was not allowed.
Nields then testified again that some of the injuries were consistent with a serrated edged knife.
Sullivan asked specifically whether it would be consistent with a kitchen knife, and Nields said that it could be a kitchen knife or any other serrated edged knife.
Once again displaying the diagram that shows the injuries documented on Astley's body, Sullivan asked whether Nields saw injuries to Astley's right arm, "consistent with someone grabbing and shaking."
Nields replied that he did not see such evidence on Astley's right arm.
Sullivan asked whether Nields examined Astley's hands for "defensive wounds."
"There's no indication from viewing her hands that she had regained consciousness and tried to fend off a knife, is that fair to say?" Sullivan asked.
Nields agreed that was correct.
Sullivan then asked about a pressure abrasion on Astley's lip.
"Would you characterize a pressure abrasion as pressure on the skin that is accompanied by movement?" Sullivan asked.
Nields replied that he characterized a "pressure abrasion," as one without the marks you'd typically see in an abrasion. It is caused primarily by pressure.
Sullivan asked whether it could have been caused by a bungee cord coming into contact with Astley's lip, which Nields said could have happened.
Moving to the wound on Astley's chin, Sullivan asked again if that was a pressure abrasion.
"It could be caused by the neck going down to protect itself from the ligature?" Sullivan asked.
"I think that would be possible," Nields replied.
Sullivan then reiterated that the mark under Astley's right eye was also a pressure abrasion, not a bruise or contusion. Nields concurred with Sullivan's assessment that it could have been caused by a bungee cord.
The contusion that Nields did notice was on the lower right side of the back of Astley's head, near her ear.
"It would be consistent with blunt impact in that area," Nields said, replying to Sullivan's question about whether that could have been caused by a hand being held to the back of her head.
Sullivan then asked about blunt force injuries to Astley's upper body, including a petechial contusion on her left upper arm. Nields said that petechial contusion was an inch and 1/8 by 1/8 of an inch.
Nields said there was not a corresponding injury to the back of Astley's arm in that area.
Moving on to the possibility that Astley regained consciousness following the use of the ligature, Nields testified that he had no way of knowing medically whether she did.
McGovern redirected to ask whether the injuries to Astley's face occurred before or after her death, to which Nields responded that they occurred before.
Nields also testified that the contusion to Astley's head was consistent with someone being hit with an object or punched.
Nields stepped down at that point and Mary Dunne, Astley's mother, took the stand.
9:05 a.m. -- The courtroom is quite full today.
The medical examiner, Henry Nields, will be back on the stand. Defense attorney William Sullivan will be conducting his cross-examination.
At 9:12 a.m., Judge Peter Lauriat entered and called the attorneys into a sidebar conference.
The defendant, Nathaniel Fujita has entered and is wearing a gray suit coat, white shirt and tie today.