In the weeks before Lauren Astley was killed, the mother of defendant Nathaniel Fujita visited her at the Natick Mall boutique where she worked and had an emotional conversation with the girl who was once her son’s sweetheart, according to testimony Thursday.
“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 [Fujita] seemed to be speaking to her a little earnestly. She looked a little upset, from what I could see.”
On Thursday, prosecutors began to lay out a case showing that weeks prior to Astley’s murder, Fujita’s mother was so concerned about the breakup of her son and Astley that she went to the mall to talk to her. In opening arguments Wednesday, Lisa McGovern, the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case, told jurors that Nathaniel Fujita killed Astley on July 3, 2011, because he was humiliated by the breakup. The two had dated since ninth grade.
Stephanie Boudreau, an assistant manager at Store 344, testified Thursday that she saw the encounter between Beth Fujita and Astley. She estimated it took place in mid- to late June, a few weeks before the slaying.
Beth 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,” Boudreau said.
Allessandra Chinetti, another of Astley’s co-workers, 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 co-workers 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 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 did not seem fearful of Fujita.
Astley’s co-workers described her as outgoing and generally happy, and the day she died was no exception, Chinetti said.
“She looked very happy, she was dressed nicely in a dress and heels, she was in a good mood,” Chinetti said.
Thursday’s final witness was Sergeant William J. Smith of the Wayland police, who was on duty the night of Astley’s death.
He said 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 did not notice anything unusual about his behavior or demeanor.
Fujita initially said that he and Astley had not spoken for awhile but then said she had come by his house around 7:45 p.m. that evening, Smith said.
Smith said Fujita told him he did not 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,” Smith said.
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. Prosecutors say Fujita slashed and strangled Astley, then dumped her body in a wooded marsh near Water Row in Wayland.
Fujita 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, telling jurors Wednesday that he had been depressed because of the breakup. If Fujita is found not guilty because of a lack of criminal responsibility, he would be committed indefinitely, Sullivan said, with periodic evaluations of his safety and condition.