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Prosecution: Strength of Case Against Wayland Murder Suspect ‘Formidable’

Phone records, Fujita's own words, witness testimony and forensics are contributing significantly to the prosecution's case.

Nathaniel Fujita, the man accused of killing his ex-girlfriend Lauren Astley in Wayland on July 3, will remain at the , held without bail following his arraignment at in Woburn Aug. 23.

Fujita arrived in Courtroom 430 at about 11:15 a.m. wearing khaki pants and a blue button-down shirt. He did not appear to look at his father, seated directly behind the defendant, nor did he show any emotion.

Malcolm Astley, Lauren's Astley's father, sat in the front row on the opposite side of the courtroom. Mary Dunne, Lauren Astley's mother, did not attend the arraignment.

Fujita spoke only to whisper pleas of not guilty to a first-degree murder charge and several assault and battery charges in connection to the murder of Astley.
 
Prosecutor Lisa McGovern asked Superior Court Judge Kathe Tuttman to deny bail based on the nature of the alleged crimes, the strength of the state’s case against Fujita and the possibility of Fujita being a flight risk.

Defense attorney William Sullivan did not argue against the prosecution’s request to deny bail, saying he had received a box of evidence only that morning and wanted to go through it fully before making an argument. He asked that his client be held without prejudice, so he could possibly make a bail argument later.

Following the arraignment, Sullivan said that the case was "complicated" and noted that, "It's going to take a long time to get to the bottom of it."

The prosecution intends to pursue a first-degree murder charge against Fujita based upon the premeditated nature of the crime as well as the “extreme atrocity and cruelty” of the murder. The charge carries a penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“In summary, Your Honor, it’s simply a brutal slaying,” McGovern said, noting that an autopsy of Astley’s body revealed it had been battered and badly bruised prior to her death. Astley’s death was ultimately the result of a combination of strangulation by ligature – marks on her neck were consistent with the bungee cord found tangled in her hair – and an incised wound to the neck, which McGovern called gaping. There were, additionally, multiple cuts on her neck.

McGovern said the strength of the prosecution’s case is “formidable” and cited phone records, the defendant’s own words, witness testimony and forensics as key elements supporting the case against Fujita.

The prosecution alleges that Fujita was upset about Astley’s breaking up with him in April of this year. McGovern said he wrote a letter to Astley asking for them to get back together, but she refused. While Fujita “put on a front” with friends and family that the break up was mutual, his behavior allegedly changed.

Fujita became “belligerent and disruptive” at a June 4 graduation party, during which Astley interacted with her friends and classmates. He was ultimately kicked out of the party, according to the prosecution’s statement of case.

Fujita’s mother became worried about him and, without his knowledge, visited Astley at her workplace in June to ask Astley whether she thought her son “would be okay at college in the fall.” Astley apparently reassured Fujita’s mother and, after talking with her close girlfriends – who discussed his behavior at the party and his pulling away from Wayland High School friends – decided to check up on Fujita.

The prosecution notes that Astley’s friends knew the history of their relationship and knew Fujita to be jealous at times, but never threatening or physically violent toward Astley, and nothing indicates that Astley feared him.

“In an act of friendship, Lauren Astley reached out and said, ‘Let’s get together,’” McGovern told the court. “This defendant repaid the kindness by killing her.”

Phone records indicate that Astley and Fujita shared numerous text messages on July 3, beginning with Astley asking to meet up with him.

They agreed to meet at his West Plain Street home in Wayland after she got off work at 7 p.m. Phone records indicate that they exchanged a couple of phone calls, the final one occurring at 7:05 p.m. when Fujita called Astley and asked her to park “down the street, by the fence beyond the garage, so his mother wouldn’t see her car,” McGovern said. Just moments before making that call to Astley, however, phone records show Fujita also called his mother and, the prosecution said, asked when she planned to come home.

Fujita’s mother, along with other members of his family, was at that time attending a family barbecue in Framingham, where the defendant had been that afternoon.

At 7:05, Astley sent Fujita a text reading, “Here.” It was the last text message she sent.

The prosecution alleges that Fujita killed Astley, and then placed her body in the backseat of the Honda he routinely drove, as positive blood samples in the back of the car as well as the exterior of the vehicle show. There was also ridge detail matching Fujita’s right middle finger left in blood on a rear window. Investigators also recovered positive blood samples from the doorknob of the house, and evidence of cleaned-up blood was found in the kitchen, the kitchen sink and the upstairs bathroom sink.

Fujita allegedly drove to Water Row where he walked through 25 feet of clear water to the edge of where water plants began to grow in the marsh and there left Astley’s body.

A witness familiar with Fujita’s car testified that she observed him driving around 7:45 p.m. along Route 27 without a shirt, with the window down and music blaring. He turned onto King Street from Route 27, which is a path that would get him home without passing through the light at Route 27 and West Plain Street, McGovern said.

According to the prosecution, Fujita called his mother, this time from the family landline, at 8:05 p.m. and asked for the family to come home and watch a movie together, a request that his aunt said was odd.

He also spoke with his cousin and asked her to “hang out,” but she had other plans. On July 4, Fujita went to the cousin’s house and had a private conversation with her prior to his arrest early on July 5. The cousin asked him whether the individuals searching his home would find anything.

The prosecution notes that Fujita replied, “They’re never going to find the weapon there, if that’s what you mean.”

Fujita apparently also told his cousin he put Lauren’s Jeep in the parking lot at the Town Beach, where police found it when she was reported missing the night of July 3. Police recovered the keys to her Jeep in a storm drain near the beach.

The cousin further asked “How could you call me and ask me to hang out after you do that,” (further testifying that “that” referred to killing Astley).

Fujita replied, “I needed to hang out with someone; I just wanted to get my mind off of it.”

Fujita will next be in court for a pre-trial conference on Sept. 22 at 9 a.m.

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