Astley's Mother Testifies, Fujita Breaks Down

Nathaniel Fujita sobbed at the defendant's table as the mother of Lauren Astley, the woman he is accused of killing, testified in court Thursday.

The short testimony of Lauren Astley's mother proved emotional for the many people gathered in Courtroom 530 in Woburn on Thursday.

As Mary Dunne told jurors about her daughter's petite frame -- 5 feet and just under 100 pounds -- quiet tears and the crinkling of people reaching for tissues could be heard throughout the room at Middlesex Superior Court.

Dunne was the final witness called by the Commonwealth in the trial of Nathaniel Fujita, the man facing a first-degree murder charge arising from the July 3, 2011, death of Astley, his ex-girlfriend and fellow Wayland High School Class of 2011 graduate.

Composed but with her voice cracking, Dunne identified a photo of Astley smiling and looking directly into the camera with her green eyes.

"That's my only child," Dunne said. "That's a senior portrait, so it would have been taken the summer before senior year."

For a complete recap of the Thursday, Feb. 28, testimony, see the Live Blog.

Dunne spent only about 10 minutes on the witness stand, but in that time she told jurors that she had witnessed her daughter crying twice at a June 4, 2011, graduation party. On both occasions, Dunne said, she went and talked to 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."

The second time, Dunne testified, she contacted the defendant's mother, asked that she come pick up her son and informed Fujita when his mother arrived.

Dunne concluded her testimony talking about the last time she saw her daughter. It was Saturday, July 2, 2011, and the two shared a meal at the Natick Mall where Astley worked.

Throughout her testimony, Dunne remained composed and responded to Prosecutor Lisa McGovern's questions with clarity. Defense attorney William Sullivan declined to cross-examine Dunne.

As she left the stand, Fujita began to sob and gasp openly. Throughout Dunne's testimony, he remained hunched over the defense table, never looking to the witness stand.

His sobs continued as the prosecution announced that it would rest its case and Sullivan requested a sidebar conference with Judge Peter Lauriat.

After a short recess, Fujita returned to the courtroom more composed and Sullivan called the first witness for the defense: the defendant's aunt, Joyce Saba.

Police arrested Fujita on July 5, 2011, from a bedroom at the Saba's Framingham home.

Saba today testified that she'd seen a marked change in her nephew's demeanor come the summer of 2011.

"Nathaniel was withdrawn and seemed depressed," Saba said. "There was an extreme change in his behavior. In 2010, he was very engaged and active with friends -- social, going out all the time."

The prosecution has said that Fujita actively lured Astley to his home where he brutally killed her before dumping her body in a Wayland marsh. The defense, however, is arguing Fujita suffered a "brief psychotic episode" and is therefore not criminally responsible; the strategy is commonly known as the insanity defense.

Saba testified Thursday that two of the defendant's great uncles suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and that she had searched the Internet for information about what Sullivan characterized as Fujita's "symptoms" in the summer of 2011.

Under cross-examination, however, Saba testified that Fujita seemed normal at a family cookout just hours before prosecutors say he killed Astley.

Saba was the only witness the defense called Thursday and court adjourned for the day just before noon.

The day's testimony began with Sullivan's cross-examination of Chief Medical Examiner Henry Nields.

Under cross-examination, Nields testified that some of the blunt force injuries he found on Astley's face and neck could have been caused by a bungee cord.

He also said that Astley's hands didn't show any evidence of her having tried to defend herself against a knife attack.

"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, to which Nields responded that he agreed.

The trial will resume Friday at 9:30 a.m.

Kristina Klein March 01, 2013 at 02:23 AM
This is so tragic. It is so heart wrenching their only child was killed. So sad. The role mental illness played in this tragedy should not be ignored. Clearly, Fujita was not in his right mind. There were warning signs that he was troubled but unfortunately, no one would ever imagine that Nate would snap as he did.
Weston Optical Co. March 01, 2013 at 09:53 PM
My thoughts are with the families. What a horrible tragedy for both.


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