WOBURN - Jurors recessed for the day Wednesday after spending six hours deliberating murder charges against 20-year-old Nathaniel Fujita, accused of killing his high school sweetheart and dumping her body into a Wayland marsh.
The case was handed to the jury late Tuesday afternoon after lawyers on both sides delivered impassioned closing arguments before a packed courtroom in Middlesex Superior Court.
Fujita is accused of luring 18-year-old Lauren Astley to his Wayland home on July 3, 2011, telling her to park out of sight, and then battering, strangling and slashing her to death and dumping her body in a marsh.
Once deliberations began Wednesday morning, the jury requested an inventory of exhibits -- more than 200 of them -- presented during the nearly three-week trial.
The jury can choose among several verdicts: first-degree murder, second-degree murder, not guilty because of a lack of criminal responsibility, and not guilty.
During the lengthy trial, which began on Feb. 13, the prosecution called 31 witnesses. The defense called two, Fujita’s aunt and a forensic psychiatrist who interviewed him at his lawyer’s request.
“I understand that this is a difficult case for all of you, because of the senselessness of this, the enormity of the tragedy, and because of that, every fiber of your being probably says somebody must be convicted for this… somebody must pay,” defense lawyer William Sullivan said Tuesday in his closing argument to the jury. “Well ladies and gentlemen, you swore an oath… that you would not let those feelings get in the way.”
Fujita was psychotic at the time of the killing, said Sullivan, and the only correct verdict is to find him not criminally responsible because of mental illness.
But prosecutor Lisa McGovern said Fujita’s actions that night were those of a man acting deliberately and purposefully, with premeditation and extreme cruelty.
“He was as sane in the early evening hours of Sunday, July 3, 2011, when he killed Lauren Astley, as he was at just about the same time of the evening the night before killing Lauren Astley, on Saturday, July 2, when he was eating ice cream in Mashpee,” said McGovern.
At one point during her closing argument, McGovern dropped to her knees, the bungee cord allegedly used to strangle Asltey wrapped around her throat, and asked the jury to think of the scratches on her knees and the cuts on her throat.
“There is no psychosis fairy who magically sprinkles a dose of psychosis on the defendant,” she said.
Before deliberations began, Judge Peter Lauriat told jurors they could consider several verdicts.
Fujita is charged with first-degree murder, which carries a sentence of life in prison without parole.
However, if jurors do not believe he acted with premeditation or with extreme atrocity or cruelty, they could find him guilty of second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole after 15 years.
Jurors could also find Fujita not guilty because of a lack of criminal responsibility. In that event, said Lauriat, the court could order him hospitalized at a mental health facility for 40 days for observation. The district attorney or other authorities could petition to have him committed to a mental health facility.
If the court concludes that Fujita is mentally ill, he could be committed for six months; every subsequent 12 months, said Lauriat, the commitment order would be reviewed.
Or, the judge said, Fujita could simply be found not guilty.
In addition to first-degree murder, he is charged with 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.