WOBURN, Mass. — A jury on Thursday convicted a Wayland man of strangling and stabbing his former high school sweetheart just weeks after graduation.
Nathaniel Fujita, 20, hung his head, his face emotionless, as the Middlesex Superior Court jury’s foreman found him guilty on all counts in the July 2011 killing of Lauren Astley. They were both 18 at the time.
The jury deliberated about seven hours over two days.
Astley’s mother, Mary Dunne, broke down in tears. The victim’s father, Malcolm Astley, then shared a sobbing hug with the defendant’s parents, Tomo Fujita and Beth Mattingly-Fujita.
Fujita later received a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.
The killing shocked the quiet middle class Boston suburb with about 13,000 residents.
Fujita’s lawyer, William Sullivan, never disputed that his client killed Astley, but said he did it during a psychotic episode and was not responsible for his actions.
A forensic psychiatrist testifying for the defense during the emotional three-week trial said Fujita lacked the ability to know his actions were wrong due to depression, daily marijuana use and repeated brain injuries suffered playing football.
Dr. Wade Myers testified that Fujita’s “body was acting while his mind was disconnected from what was happening.”
Myers also said Fujita’s parents brought him to a psychiatrist just a couple of weeks before the slaying and he was diagnosed as having a major depressive disorder.
Fujita’s aunt took the stand to testify that there was a history of mental illness in the family.
But prosecutor Lisa McGovern said Fujita was angry because Astley had broken up with him, and carefully planned the killing. She said he lured her to his home when he knew his parents would not be there, had her park her car out of sight, strangled and stabbed her, then left her body in a marsh.
He then carefully tried to cover his tracks, cleaning up the blood and hiding his bloody clothes.
A psychiatrist for the prosecution said Fujita acted out of rage and understood his actions.
When police searched Fujita’s home the day after authorities say he murdered Astley, they found bloody and wet clothing hidden in his room.
The jury heard from prosecution witnesses who said Fujita became isolated and distant his senior year. A teacher said his grades fell and a friend said he was increasingly omitted from group activities because of his dour personality.
Dunne, and a friend of Astley’s, described Fujita’s anger at a graduation party. The friend said Fujita harangued Astley, asking to talk with her, while Astley became more and more upset, trying to get away from Fujita. He was eventually asked to leave the party by Astley’s mother after punching a pole supporting a tent.