A distraught Beth Fujita, the mother of accused murderer Nathaniel Fujita, had a serious conversation with Lauren Astley at the Natick Mall, where Astley worked at a boutique, in the weeks before Astley was killed, according to testimony today from the boutique manager.
“It seemed to be a bit of a serious conversation,” said Maeghen Reineke, the manager of Store 344, where Astley worked at the time of her death in July 2011. “Lauren was a person who was really spunky. She had her arms crossed and she was leaning against the wall, and Beth seemed to be speaking to her a little earnestly. She looked a little upset from what I could see.”
Lisa McGovern, the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case, told jurors in her opening statement Wednesday that Astley was worried about Fujita, who McGovern said killed Astley on July 3, 2011, because he was humiliated by their recent breakup.
Stephanie Boudreau, an assistant manager at Store 344, testified that she also saw the interaction between Beth Fujita and Astley, which she estimated happened in mid- to late-June, a few weeks before the death.
Fujita appeared to be crying as she sat on a bench outside the store talking to Astley.
“I observed that the woman appeared distraught and that Lauren was very detached from the situation, standing with her arms folded, just kind of nodding,” said Boudreau.
Allessandra Chinetti, another of Astley’s coworkers, testified that Astley had started seeing other people romantically and had gone out with someone the Friday before she died. Chinetti worked with Astley the day of her death, and the coworkers talked about Fujita. “She said she was going to talk with her ex-boyfriend and see how he’s doing because she’s worried about him,” said Chinetti.
Chinetti acknowledged that she has previously said that Astley told her that Fujita “had lost a lot of friends and he seemed really depressed.”
It was a slow day at the store, and Astley told Chinetti that she wished Fujita would come visit her at the mall, which he had said he might, even though they were seeing each other that night.
Chinetti also testified that Astley didn’t seem fearful of Fujita.
Astley’s coworkers described her as outgoing and generally happy, and the day she died was no exception, according to Chinetti.
“She looked very happy, she was dressed nicely in a dress and heels, she was in a good mood,” said Chinetti.
Thursday’s last witness was Sergeant William J. Smith, who was on duty the night of Astley’s death.
He went to the Fujitas’ Wayland home around midnight July 4, after Astley was reported missing.
Smith said he had a “normal conversation” with Fujita and didn’t notice anything unusual about his behavior or demeanor.
Smith said Fujita initially said that he and Astley hadn’t spoken for awhile but then said she had come by his house around 7:45 p.m. that evening.
Fujita told Smith he didn’t want his mother to see Astley so he asked her to park away from the house and to meet him by the fence.
“I asked him what they talked about and the answer I got was, ‘It was awkward,’” Smith testified.
When asked to clarify, Fujita replied, “It was just awkward,” according to Smith.
Beth Fujita told Smith that she and her son had been home all night watching movies together, Smith said.
Fujita and Astley had been high school sweethearts at Wayland High School and had just graduated.
Fujita was 18 when, according to prosecutors, he allegedly choked and slashed to death 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.
He is facing charges of first-degree murder, two charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, and one count of assault and battery. If he is convicted, he faces life in prison without parole.
Defense lawyers appear to be building an insanity defense, and told jurors Wednesday that he had been depressed because of the break-up.
If Fujita is found not guilty because of a lack of criminal responsibility, he would be committed indefinitely, said Sullivan. He would undergo periodic evaluations about his safety and condition.
Lisa Kocian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.