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Insanity defense likely in Wayland murder trial

Posted by Evan Allen  February 11, 2013 04:33 PM

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Nathaniel Fujita, a young Wayland man accused of murdering his former girlfriend in July 2011, will likely invoke the insanity defense at his trial, Judge Peter Lauriat told prospective jurors as jury selection began on Monday.

“Mr. Fujita will likely be raising the issue of lack of criminal responsibility, commonly described as the insanity defense,” he informed potential jurors in Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn during a longer discussion about the insanity defense.

Fujita, now 20, began crying in court as he was introduced to the prospective jurors, covering his eyes and choking back several sobs. His parents sat behind him in the front row. They declined to speak to a reporter.

“I think it’s an emotional moment when the trial begins,” Fujita’s lawyer, William Sullivan, said later.

Fujita was 18 on July 3, 2011, when he allegedly choked and slashed to death his former high school sweetheart, 18-year-old Lauren Astley and dumped her body in a wooded marsh near Water Row in Wayland. The two had dated since ninth grade, but their relationship had recently ended in April of 2011.

The murder shocked the small suburb, which hadn’t seen a homicide in more than 25 years.

Prosecutors have charged Fujita with first-degree murder, two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and one count of assault and battery. If convicted, he faces life in prison without parole.

Sullivan declined to comment on whether he would pursue the insanity defense. Sullivan filed a notice of intent to use the defense in September of last year, according to court documents, but simply filing intent does not guarantee the defense will be used.

Three men and four women were selected Monday from a pool of 92 prospective jurors to serve on the jury.

Many potential jurors were excused over concerns about the length of the trial; others were excused after they said they had been following news coverage and could not be impartial.

Questions asked of the prospective jurors included whether photographs or testimony depicting graphic bloodshed would make it difficult for them to be impartial; whether they or their families had been treated by a mental health professional; and whether they or their families had ever had “contact with or concern about” drugs or alcohol that would make it difficult to be impartial.

Sullivan declined to say what he was looking for in a jury; prosecutor Lisa McGovern directed questions to the spokeswoman for her office, who declined to comment.

Fujita has been held without bail since his arrest two days after Astley's murder, said Sullivan, who declined to say where his client was being held.

Astley’s father, Malcolm, was also in the courtroom, writing in a notebook during the proceedings. He declined to comment while the trial is ongoing.

Jury selection is set to continue on Tuesday. The trial is expected to last about three weeks, according to the judge, and the jury will likely begin deliberations in early March.

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com

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