An hour before he allegedly killed his former high-school sweetheart on July 3, 2011, Nathaniel Fujita chatted happily with his uncle about football at a family barbecue in Framingham, according to court testimony Thursday.
“I said, ‘Gee, you look good, you’re putting on some weight,’” Philip Saba testified at his nephew’s trial on first-degree murder charges at Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn. “‘Listen Nathaniel,’ I says, ‘I want you to let me know what your schedule is like because I want to go to some of your games, if you’re playing any games nearby.’ And he goes, ‘Sure, Uncle Phil, I’ll let you know.’”
Fujita left the party at around 6 p.m. Just after 7 p.m., according to prosecutors, he beat, strangled and slashed Lauren Astley to death in his parents’ Wayland garage, then dumped her body in a marsh. Both were 18 at the time, and had dated throughout high school, until Astley broke up with Fujita in the spring of their senior year.
Fujita’s lawyer William Sullivan said in his opening statement that Fujita had fallen into a deep depression after the breakup, and was suffering a brief psychotic episode when he killed Astley. Prosecutors say Fujita was simply angry that she dumped him.
Saba is the first of Fujita’s relatives to testify at his trial. He said he had met Astley before, and called her a “beautiful girl, charming, nice.”
As his uncle identified him from the witness stand, Fujita lowered his head and began crying, wiping his eyes and nose with a tissue.
Saba described his nephew as a shy young man who had become more social in his senior year of high school. Fujita had become “very depressed” in the spring of 2011, said Saba, but the last few times the two saw each other in June and July, Saba testified that he did not notice anything unusual in the way Fujita was acting.
Fujita was at his uncle’s home in the early morning hours of July 5, 2011, when he was arrested in Astley’s slaying. Wayland Police Detective Sergeant Jamie Berger testified on Thursday that Fujita was asleep when officers showed up around 2 a.m. When they turned on the lights, Fujita, wearing shorts but no shirt, woke up.
“I said, ‘Nathan, my name is Jamie Berger. I’m a detective with the Wayland Police Departement. You’re under arrest,’” said Berger. “I asked him to put his hands behind his back.”
Fujita did not say anything, said Berger, but was compliant and appeared to understand what the officer was saying when he was placed under arrest.
Berger testified that he had gone to the Fujitas’ home in Wayland on July 4, several hours after Astley’s body had been found, but Nathaniel was not there. His father, Tomo, was at home, but declined to help police look for his son, Berger testified. Tomo Fujita did go back to the station to talk to officers, the detective said, but was picked up after about an hour by Philip Saba and his wife, Joyce.
On July 8, in a search of the Water Row area, Berger discovered a green and silver locket near where Astley’s body had been found, he testified.
And in August, as police searched storm drains near where Astley’s car had been parked, they found her keys. They had a lanyard from Elon University.
“Lauren was going to be going to Elon,” Berger said. As he testified, her mother quietly shook with sobs.
Fujita faces charges of first-degree murder, two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, and one count of assault and battery.
Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.