WOBURN — As he wrapped a bungee cord around his former girlfriend's neck in his Wayland garage, Nathaniel Fujita felt nothing, he told a psychiatrist, just numb. When she stopped moving, he went to the kitchen and got a knife. He shut the garage door. He cut her throat.
“He’s acting, but his mind is disconnected from his body,” said Dr. Wade Myers, who testified for the defense Friday in Middlesex Superior Court. “He described not having any feelings at all.”
Fujita, 20, is accused of killing 18-year-old Lauren Astley on July 3, 2011, and dumping her body in a Wayland marsh. He faces first-degree murder and other charges.
Prosecutors, who rested their case Thursday, say Fujita was angry that Astley broke up with him. But Myers, who interviewed Fujita twice after his arrest, said that in his opinion Fujita was having a brief psychotic episode and could not control his actions.
“He’s got this explosion of these primitive impulses that he’s not in control of that have come over him, that have caused him to engage in psychotic behavior that’s not based on rational thinking,” said Myers, director of forensic psychiatry at Rhode Island Hospital.
Myers testified that years of playing football had left Fujita with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a cognitive disorder caused by repeated head injuries. In the weeks leading up to the killing, he had been suffering a major depressive episode, and his brain had been affected by daily marijuana use.
Fujita lacked the ability to appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions and lacked the capacity to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law when he killed Astley, said Myers, who conducted a battery of psychological tests on the defendant.
Fujita sat straight during the psychiatrist’s testimony and did not appear to show emotion, a stark contrast to Thursday, when he sobbed through testimony from Astley’s mother, the prosecution’s final witness.
It was only after Astley was dead that Fujita realized the enormity of what had happened, the psychiatrist said.
“His thought was: ‘I can’t let my mother find out what’s happened. It’s going to break her heart or cause her to have a heart attack,’ ” Myers said.
After he killed Astley, Fujita told Myers, he got rid of her car and took the body in his car to a marsh off Water Row. “He felt like he had to get away from Lauren’s body,” Myers said.
He then went home, took a shower, smoked marijuana, and watched a movie with his parents, Myers said. His parents were not home at the time of the killing, according to earlier testimony.
Astley’s mother hunched over in her seat in court as Myers related Fujita’s description of the slaying. It was the most detailed account that has been presented in more than two weeks of testimony; Fujita has not testified.
Myers said Fujita became depressed and suicidal after Astley broke up with him in spring 2011.
“He thought this was very possibly the girl he’d like to spend the rest of his life with,” said Myers. “His mood was terrible. He was very depressed. He felt hopeless.”
Mental illness runs in Fujita’s family, Myers said. Two great uncles had psychotic disorders, an aunt became a “bag lady,” his mother and father had significant anxiety, and his mother had bouts of depression. A cousin had bipolar disorder or a schizophrenia-like illness, and both of Fujita’s siblings had anxiety and depression with suicidal thinking. Both have been hospitalized, Myers said.
Fujita began showing symptoms of mental illness when he was around 4 or 5 years old, Myers said. “He was described as clingy. He had trouble separating from his mother. He had some obsessional thinking. It was also noted by his parents that he had, by that age, he had a very hard time expressing his feelings.”
Fujita also has symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, said Myers, caused by hits he took playing football from age 11. It can cause problems with impulse control, explosivity, depression and anxiety, and even dementia, he said.
“It’s something that can predispose you to this sort of a break with reality,” Myers said. He said there is no way to definitively diagnose chronic traumatic encephalopathy without doing an autopsy.
A June 15 visit to a psychiatrist showed that Fujita was suffering from major depression, Myers said, and he was smoking marijuana to “numb himself.”
Prosecutor Lisa McGovern challenged Myers’s conclusion that Fujita was psychotic and could not control his behavior when he killed Astley.
She asked Myers if he had considered the possibility that Fujita was simply angry and jealous after the breakup, citing an example from Myers’s report in which Fujita describes Astley as blowing him off at a party and referring crudely to how she was dressed.
“It shows how important she is to him,” Myers replied. “He’s afraid he’s going to lose her, she’s interacting with other men. . . . And, yeah, it would worry him.”
McGovern showed Myers a series of text messages sent close to the time of Astley’s death in which Astley asked Fujita why he was being “so hostile.” McGovern asked if Myers was confident that Fujita had no feelings of hostility toward Astley.
“As far as him being aware of it, or conscious in his mind, no, he wasn’t feeling that,” said Myers. “Is there a lot of aggressive impulses that are boiling under the surface like a crock pot? Yes.”
Myers testified that Fujita told him that “something took over him” when he killed Astley. McGovern asked if that something could be rage.
“At an unconscious level that he’s not aware of, yes, in fact, that would make sense,” he said. “It was an expression of aggression, of, um, of rage if you will.”