WOBURN – Nathaniel Fujita was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole Thursday after a jury of eight men and four women found him guilty of first-degree murder in the slaying of Lauren Astley, his former high school girlfriend.
Judge Peter Lauriat issued the sentence in Middlesex Superior Court at about 12:20 p.m. Appeal is automatic in first-degree murder cases.
Fujita, now 20, acted with both premeditation and extreme atrocity when he lured 18-year-old Astley to his Wayland home on July 3, 2011, told her to park her car out of sight, and then beat, strangled and slashed her to death before dumping her body in a marsh, the jurors found.
Before the sentencing, Astley's parents, who are divorced, gave statements describing the impact of their daughter's murder. Her father, Malcolm Astley, went first.
“We need to acknowledge the death, the absence, and the taking of the life," and then he began to weep, "of Lauren Dunne Astley, and the cutting off of all that she was and would be and contributed to the world. We need to affirm the high value of life.”
Malcolm Astley also talked of the toll that domestic violence takes across the nation. “We do need to expand our efforts to understand what led to this deeply harmful and tragic act,” Astley said. “Three women a day on average in our country are murdered” by a partner.
In describing the toll of his daughter's murder, Astley said he mourned the loss of future generations “since the eggs inside her have also died along with the chance to be a mother.”
Astley also addressed Fujita and the loss that his family is feeling. “He will have a most demanding challenge to even approach clearing his name,” Astley said.
As a beginning, Astley said, Fujita could acknowledge what he did and “he could apologize for it deeply and repeatedly. … He could dig deeply to understand himself and what led to this violence and this loss.”
The victim's mother, Mary Dunne, then gave her statement.
“I am the mother of Lauren Dunne Astley, but never again will I be called Mom or Mommy or Mother. Lauren was my only child and she brought instant joy and light into my life,” she said.
“What I treasure most about her was her uncanny ability to draw people into her circle,” Dunne said, adding that she deeply missed her daughter’s voice. “Whether singing or pleading for a new pair of shoes, her voice was lovely and now there is silence.”
Dunne talked of being haunted by her daughter's death.
"The image of her last excruciating minutes on earth will not leave my brain ever. They torment me and I feel powerless to stop them,” Dunne said. "Lauren does not have the privilege of reentering the world and it seems fair that Nathaniel should not either.”
Fujita did not make a statement before he was sentenced, and showed no reaction when the judge said he would spend the rest of his life in prison.
In convicting Fujita of murder, the jury rejected the defense’s argument that Fujita was psychotic, and therefore not criminally responsible, at the time of the killing.
“We’re disappointed with the verdict,” Fujita's lawyer, William Sullivan, said at a press conference after the sentencing. “We knew that this was a possibility. We were hopeful that the jury would have been able to grasp and understand the depths of mental illness.”
Asked why Fujita did not stand up and apologize in court, Sullivan said, "This is not the appropriate forum for an apology ... If there is ever going to be a conversation like that, it will not be done in public.”
Of Fujita's feelings after the verdict, Sullivan said, “He’s a little overwhelmed right now."
Fujita was silent and hung his head as the verdict was read at around 10:30 a.m., shortly after the jury began its second day of deliberations.
Astley's parents shook with sobs when the verdict came. Prosecutor Lisa McGovern went over and hugged both of them, telling the slain teen's mother, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry."
Fujita's parents were silent as the verdict was read. But then Malcolm Astley walked toward them and put his arms out. The couple began sobbing, and all three hugged -- the defendant's parents and the victim's father.
Fujita’s lawyer had argued that Fujita was deeply depressed, and was suffering the effects of daily marijuana use and years of football head injuries, when he slipped into a “brief psychotic episode” that left him unable to control or understand his actions during the slaying.
Prosecutors maintained that Fujita was simply enraged over his recent breakup with Astley.
Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Lisa Kocian can be reached at email@example.com.