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Expert pans Fujita’s psychosis defense

Psychiatrist says rage led to killing

Dr. Alison Fife testified in the Nathaniel Fujita murder trial Monday, March 4, 2013.

Ken McGagh/MetroWest Daily News, via AP

Dr. Alison Fife testified in the Nathaniel Fujita murder trial Monday, March 4, 2013.

WOBURN — Rage, not psychosis, drove Nathaniel Fujita to beat, strangle, and slash to death his former high school sweetheart after she broke up with him, a psychiatrist testified for the prosecution on Monday.

“My assessment of Mr. ­Fujita’s mental status at the time of the crime was that he was angry, enraged, acting out in a very brutal way, and acting in a purposeful, well-thought-out, goal-directed and thorough way,” said Dr. Alison Fife, who met with Fujita four times ­before his trial began in ­Middlesex Superior Court.

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Fujita, now 20, is accused of luring Lauren Astley, who was 18, to his Wayland home July 3, 2011, telling her to park out of sight, killing her in the garage, and then dumping her body in a marsh.

He faces first-degree murder and other charges.

Fife’s opinion contrasted sharply with that of Dr. Wade Myers, a psychiatrist testifying for the defense, who said that Fujita was having a brief psychotic episode and could not control his actions.

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At the time of the slaying, Fife said, Fujita had the capacity to conform his behavior to the law, to appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions, and to form the intent to murder.

“I think the primary motivator was rage,” Fife said.

Myers had also testified that Fujita was deeply depressed and suicidal, his brain had been affected by daily marijuana use, and years of tackle football had left him with chronic traumatic encephalopathy from repeated head injuries.

On cross-examination Monday, Myers acknowledged that Fujita had never been diagnosed with a concussion.

Fife testified that she thought Fujita was exaggerating about his mental state. “I didn’t find any evidence that was documented at the time that he had suicidal thoughts — I think that was something he came up with after to support the diagnosis,” she said. “The medical term is malingering. It’s the same as exaggeration and lying, really.”

The depression that Fujita reported suffering, Fife said, was more like a “wounded mood” after his breakup.

“It’s an emotional state of feeling lousy, feeling that you’ve lost something that’s meaningful to you, and that hurts,” she said. “I think that Mr. Fujita has some personality traits along the narcissistic spectrum. . . . Someone who can feel deserving of things and an ownership of things they don’t really have.”

After the killing, according to earlier testimony, Fujita hid the clothing he had been wearing, left Astley’s car in one spot and her body in another nearly 6 miles away, showered, smoked marijuana, watched a movie, tried to make plans to hang out, calmly told police he did not know where Astley was, and Googled whether water ­removes fingerprints.

“It goes against everything we know scientifically about psychosis,” Fife said. “This is somebody who has done what he has done, and he’s able to comport himself, compose himself, speak appropriately to the authorities . . . I don’t know how to say it, other than there’s no evidence of having mental illness.”

When Astley’s body was recovered from the marsh, it was covered in bruises and scrapes, and her throat had been slashed many times. Fife said she believed Astley’s wounds were “of a sadistic nature.”

During cross-examination by Fujita’s lawyer, William Sullivan, Fife said she did not run any objective tests on Fujita to see if he was malingering, though such tests exist.

Sullivan pointed out that by the time Fife first interviewed Fujita in December 2012, it was more than a year after the slaying, and Fujita had been put on Zoloft, an antidepressant.

Sullivan also took issue with the fact that their interviews were not recorded.

Fife testified during cross-examination that Fujita reported to her that he had grown increas­ingly depressed and isolated in the weeks leading up to the killing, and that he was self-medicating with marijuana and his sister’s prescription anxiety, sleep aid, and antidepressant medication.

Fife said she did not find these reports credible, however.

“Those were his words; I didn’t think they were the ­music,” she said at one point.

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