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Fujita Murder Trial Live Blog: Medical Examiner Found Multiple Separate, Distinct Wounds on Astley's Neck, Body

Wayland man Nathaniel Fujita is facing first-degree murder charges arising from the death of Lauren Astley, also of Wayland, in 2011.

Editor's Note: Wayland Patch will post regular updates from the courtroom at Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn. The most recent updates will be at the top of the story with a time stamp. For more about this case and trial, see "Wayland Murder: Nathaniel Fujita Trial."

1 p.m. -- Massachusetts Chief Medical Examiner Henry Nields took the stand. He said he has been a medical examiner since 1995 and became the state's chief medical examiner in 2009.

Nields said he has conducted approximately 4,300 autopsies in his career. His responsibility in conducting an autopsy includes naming the cause and manner of death for a death certificate.

Nields said he performed an autopsy on Astley on July 5, 2011.

The major findings, Nields said, were evidences of ligature strangulation, incised wounds and blunt force wounds.

By ligature strangulation, Nields explained, he means that the strangulation occurred with a ligature as opposed to with someone's hands. He then examined nine photographs from the autopsy and they were marked for evidence.

"You mentioned a ligature furrow, would you please define the word furrow?" McGovern asked.

"It's used to describe a marking made by a ligature on the neck. It's usually a pressure abrasion on the skin," the witness said.

He said it's possible to put a ligature on someone's neck and it not leave a furrow; the furrow's characteristics are dependant on the pressure applied and other factors.

"It was a dry brown furrow on the anterior left and right sides," Nields said, of the mark left on Astley. The furrow was 5/16ths of an inch wide on the left side and 3/8ths of an inch on the right side, he said.

The furrow passed over the voicebox and was interrupted by a jagged wound, Nields explained.

Lauriat told the jury that they would receive copies of some autopsy images at that time.

"The photographs are not pleasant. Indeed they may be described as graphic," Lauriat said. He explained that Fujita is due a verdict based on evidence and not on sympathy for the victim.

Jurors then received a folder of images to look through.

Nields proceeded to point out elements of the photographs for jurors.

On the back of Astley's neck, Nields said, the furrow ends.

Throughout the medical examiner's testimony, Fujita sat with his body deeply bowed, at times with his head nearly on the table in front of him. He could be seen wiping at his face and eyes from time to time.

There were small petechial hemorrhages in Astley's eyelids, eyes, cheeks, gums and other areas, Nields testified.

"They're caused by an increase in pressure in the small blood vessels of the body," he explained.

Nields said that petechial hemorrhages occur when some blood flow is allowed to pass into an area, but not return to the heart. He said that a struggle would allow some of that blood to get through, but not return and therefore could result in the petechial hemorrhaging.

Nields explained what happens to the body during strangulation.

"I believe it would be a distressing feeling to be strangled," Nields said, adding that it can cause loss of consciousness, but if pressure is abated, consciousness can return.

"Were you able to form an opinion as to whether Lauren Astley survived the strangulation?" McGovern asked.

"I believe that she died as a result of the strangulation and the incised wounds to her neck," Nields said. "It was both together. I believe that she was alive after the ligature had been removed."

Turning back to the photos, Nields said there was a bruise above the ligature furrow. It was caused by some kind of a blunt force, he said.

"It doesn't appear to be associated with the furrow," he said of the bruise.

Nields said there was more than one incised wound to the neck.

"The largest wound actually might have been made up of several wounds in the same area," Nields said. "It was approximately four-and-a-half inches. It had a jagged edge -- it suggests that there was some movement at the time of the injury."

The gaping wound extends from the angle of the left jaw, down over the neck, to the right side of the neck, he said.

There were multiple more superficial incised wounds that extend from the wound and two small wounds below the gaping wound.

"Several muscles that make up the neck were incised and the left lobe of the thyroid gland was incised," Nields said. "There were two smaller incised wounds to the left side of the trachea."

Neither the jugular or carotid artery was severed.

"It would mean that blood loss would be slower than it otherwise would have been," Nields said. "In general it would increase the survival time."

Nields said he did not count all the wounds on Astley's neck.

"There were many incised wounds to the neck," Nields said. "In certain areas there were multiple very close, almost parallel incised wounds suggesting there might have been a serrated edge to the instrument used to inflict the wounds."

Nields then pointed out additional aspects of the autopsy photos to jurors, specifically the separate and distinct wounds as well as where he thinks a serrated instrument could have been used.

"These are not lacerations, they are incised wounds," Nields said.

Nields said that his opinion is that the ligature strangulation occurred prior to the gaping neck wound.

"I believe that if all those incised wounds had occurred first, you'd be less likely to see the petechial hemorrhages," Nields said. He added that he would expect to see some evidence of the furrow in the soft tissue exposed by the gaping wound.

In addition to the injuries already discussed, Nields said he saw evidence of blunt force injuries to the head.

Nields agreed that those injuries could be caused by someone hitting a person or a person falling or being thrown into another object.

Astley had an abrasion on her chin, her lip and below her right eye as well as a bruise to the back of her head.

Additionally, Astley had "blunt impact injuries" to her arms, legs and hands. Nields said he found bruises on her arms and wrists, her hand, her knee and her shin.

Blunt impact and sharp force injuries to Astley's torso were also found, Nields said. These were specifically near her left collarbone.

McGovern then showed the jury a diagram showing where Nields found injuries.

Nields said that Astley appeared healthy apart from her injuries. An initial screening test for amphetamine came back positive. A more extensive confirmatory test, however, showed no alcohol or drugs in Astley's body at the time of her death.

When asked about the furrow on Astley's neck, Nields said, "It would be consistent with that bungee cord."

Nields said that it was a sharp instrument that caused the wounds.

"It certainly was a significant amount of force," Nields said, explaining what kind of force was needed to inflict the gaping wound.

"Which of these wounds would be fatal in and of themselves?" McGovern asked.

"I guess the answer would be any one of them singularly could be fatal and any one of them singularly could have been survivable," Nields said.

He further testified that none of the wounds was instantly incapacitating. If the carotid artery had been severed, death would have come more quickly, he said.

McGovern concluded her questioning at that time and the attorneys entered into a sidebar conference.

Court concluded for the afternoon with McGovern's examination of the medical examiner. He'll return to the stand for Sullivan's cross-examination tomorrow.

11:47 a.m. -- Sullivan's cross-examination of Chates began at 11:34 a.m.

Sullivan reiterated that Chates and Astley maintained a close friendship throughout high school.

Sullivan asked Chates whether she knew that Astley and Fujita dated from sophomore into senior year, to which she responded in the affirmative.

Chates then testified, in response to Sullivan's questioning, that Astley did become frustrated in the fall of their senior year that Fujita was spending so much time with his friends.

Sullivan asked whether the April 1, 2011, breakup occurred because Fujita chose to go out with his friends instead of spending Astley's birthday together, which Chates said was true.

"He had always done stuff like that, ditch her and forget to come over?" Sullivan asked.

"Occasionally," Chates responded.

Turning his attention to the span between graduation on June 5, 2011, and Chates' phone call to Fujita on July 3, Sullivan pressed Chates on her saying that she hadn't seen Fujita in a while during that phone call. Chates agreed it had been about a month at that time since she'd seen Fujita.

Chates then testified that she did know that Beth Fujita, the defendant's mother, had come by Astley's work in mid-June and the group of girlfriends talked about how Astley should respond to that.

Chates said that she didn't see Fujita much during June, but that many of the friends were away at summer homes or on vacation at the time.

Sullivan asked about Astley's demeanor during the break time Chates spent with her on July 3. Chates agreed with Sullivan's assessment that Astley didn't seem scared or frightened at that time.

Later that night, Chates called the Fujita home looking for Astley, she testified again.

"You asked him basically, 'How are you doing? I haven't seen you in a while," Sullivan asked.

Chates said those weren't the exact words, but that was essentially the idea.

"He didn't sound happy and upbeat?" Sullivan asked.

"No," Chates said.

"He's kind of a quiet, sometimes rude individual?" Sullivan asked.

"Yes," Chates replied.

Sullivan concluded his cross-examination at that point.

11:09 a.m. -- Ariel Chates, a Class of 2011 graduate of Wayland High School, and a close friend of Astley's, took the stand/

Chates said Astley spent the night at her house most weekends during their senior year.

Chates said she and Astley spent time together on Saturday, July 2, 2011. They had dinner together that night and went to a party later. They then spent the night at the Chates' house Saturday night.

On Sunday morning, Chates said that she knew Astley was going to have brunch with her father and then both were going to work at separate stores at the Natick Mall.

Chates said the two texted one another to meet up at the Natick Mall food court during their breaks from work.

"We talked about our plans for the night," Chates said. "She said she was just going to come to my house after work because she was working later than I was."

Chates said Astley stopped to buy yogurt at Red Mango before meeting her in the food court during the break that day. That was the last time she saw Astley, Chates said. At the time, Astley was wearing Chates' dress -- a pink, leopard print dress -- and wedge shoes.

Chates said she went home and took a nap and had dinner with her parents and family friends. She said she woke up to a text message from Astley about their plans for later that night.

Chates said she replied to the text, but didn't receive a response, which caused her concern. At that point, Chates said she texted her friends looking for Astley.

"We were getting a little worried, because we're usually in constant contact," Chates said.

Soon, Chates said, Malcolm Astley, Lauren Astley's father called the Chates house looking for his daughter.

Chates said she then called Fujita's cellphone and sent him a text message, none of which were responded to. She then called the Fujita's home phone number.

When she called the house, Beth Fujita, the defendant's mother, answered and gave the phone to her son. Chates said she said told Fujita she "knew it was a long shot," but had he seen Astley.

"He said, 'No, this is the last place she would ever be,'" Chates said. Chates asked if he'd heard from Astley that night and he replied, "I was actually in the middle of watching a movie and you interrupted me, so I have to go."

Chates said his tone was normal -- "Rude, but that was normal," she said.

Chates then contacted Chloe Jacques and the two decided to drive around Wayland and look for Astley. They received a phone call, and they went to Wayland Town Beach where they found Astley's Jeep.

The two friends contacted Malcolm Astley, who came to the beach. Then police were called. Chates said that she went down to the beach with Malcolm Astley, and watched as he ran into the water with a flashlight, looking for his daughter.

More people arrived at the beach to search for Astley, Chates said. She said she received text messages and calls throughout the evening.

Chates said she was home the next morning when she learned that Astley had died.

McGovern then showed Chates a locket that the witness said was on Astley's car keys. Chates said she thought Astley received the locket as a graduation gift.

Showing Chates another item, McGovern asked Chates to identify Astley's car keys.

McGovern then showed Chates the dress that Astley was wearing when her body was found and Chates identified it as her own dress.

We're taking our morning recess before the cross-examination.

10:52 a.m. -- Erik Koester was called to the stand. He works as a crime scene analyst for the the Massachusetts state crime laboratory.

Koester said he conducted several swabs and tested multiple items of clothing related to this case.

Koester said he tested all four floor mats found in the Fujita garage and all four tested positive for human blood, both on the top and bottom of the mats.

He also confirmed human blood on the towel found at Water Row and a swab from Astley's Jeep.

The vacuum attachement and garage floor also tested positive for human blood, Koester said.

The sweatshirts and sneakers found in the attic crawlspace as well as the sneakers found in the basement all tested positive for human blood, Koester continued.

Stains on the Honda CRV, the cardboard box and a coupon found in the cardboard box also tested positive for human blood, Koester said.

Koester said he also took swabs from Astley's body to search for seminal fluid, sperm cells or amylase (an enzyme present in saliva and sometimes urine). He located blood, but none of the tests were positive for sperm, seminal fluid or amylase.

Koester then explained that a "drip stain," is a drop of blood that only gravity is acting upon. When it comes to "directionality," that term is often applied to blood stains that are elongated and have a tail.

"If the blood drop has a force applied to it, it travels," Koester said. "The tail will indicate the direction the blood was traveling."

Several of the Honda CRV blood stains "exhibited directionality," Koester said.

"By that do you mean that the blood has come off of something and struck the vehicle?" McGovern asked.

"Yes," Koester said, adding that he didn't know from his tests or observations what the blood could have come off.

Koester said that in order for the stains to get onto the vehicle, the source would have to be fairly close -- "a couple of feet," he said.

The stains he saw with directionality were located near the rear passenger side of the vehicle. He said he also looked at stains on the front passenger side door and the rear passenger tire.

Of the stains on the front passenger side door and the rear tire, Koester said, he would exclude spatter and transfer stains as the cause of those stains.

Koester said he conducted microscopic and trace evidence tests as well. He looked at hairs recovered from articles of clothing, specifically some hairs removed from Astley's dress.

Ten medium brown hairs, about 10 to 12 inches in length, were examined. Kodester said they featured the roots and follicular tissue. The roots were stretched, which Koester said is characteristic of hair that's been forcibly removed.

Sullivan's cross-examination began at 10:47 a.m.

Koester said he never went to the Fujita residence, but examined the Honda CRV at the Wayland Police Station.

Sullivan asked about the swabs of Astley's body that Koester examined. Koester agreed that the tests are done, at least in part, to test for sexual assault.

None of those tests showed any indication of semen, seminal fluid or saliva.

Sullivan asked Koester about tests conducted from scrapings taken from under Astley's fingernails. Koester tested those scrapings and testified that there was no blood found there.

Ariel Chates has been called as the next witness.

10:12 a.m. -- Montgomery continued her testimony with discussion of DNA analysis.

Montgomery said she tested 24 items for this case, though not all were tested for blood. Some were tested for other substances.

Montgomery said that some of the samples had no DNA.

In a homicide investigation, Montgomery said, several people in a lab decide what and how many items to test. The lab policy is to test eight items per round of testing.

Montgomery said she received special permission to test nine items in her first round for this case. She also conducted a second round of testing.

Items recovered from the crawlspace of Fujita's bedroom, the clothing in the black trash bag, were tested for DNA, but the sweatshirts and T-Shirts did not contain sufficient DNA to create a positive profile.

"Sometimes the quality of the DNA contained in the sample is not good enough to go forward so it's stopped at that point," Montgomery said, explaining that the testing involves several steps and stops at the step in which insufficient data is found. "There is blood there. Just because it tests positive for human blood" doesn't mean DNA profiling can be completed.

Heat and moisture can break down the DNA strand, Montgomery said. Mud and soil can also inhibit the process, she testified. Montgomery said that she understood the items from the crawlspace were stored in a plastic bag in an attic in July.

"It's not unusual to not get a DNA profile from clothing or items that are kept this way," Montgomery said.

Tests of the items below did yield sufficient data to create DNA profiles, Montgomery said:

- The cutting from the towel at Water Row; DNA matched Lauren Astley, but not Fujita.

- The red-brown pool on the garage floor; DNA matched Astley, not Fujita.

- A car mat; DNA matched Astley, not Fujita.

- The right toe area of a sneaker found in the ceiling crawlspace; DNA matched Astley, not Fujita.

- The red-brown stain on bumper of Honda CRV; DNA matched Astley, not Fujita.

"Lauren Astley could have been the source of the female DNA found on these items," Montgomery said, adding that the probability of the DNA being anyone besides Astley's would be in the range of 1 in some trillion in the Caucasian population.

Fujita's DNA was positively identified from the map pocket stain in Astley's Jeep.

The expert then testified that a partial DNA profile matching Astley was also created from the sneaker found in the basement.

Turning to the sneakers in the crawlspace, Montgomery said the samples yielded DNA profiles for three individuals, including Astley and Fujita.

The report on the samples above was filed in March 2012.

A second round of testing resulted in a report in July 2012 and included the sweatshirts found in the crawlspace. Those sweatshirts did not contain sufficient data to form a DNA profile.

Additional items in the second round did result in the creation of DNA profiles:

- the vacuum attachment found in the garage; DNA matched Astley, not Fujita

- the white trashcan in the Fujita garage; DNA matched Astley, not Fujita

- the front passenger side door panel of the Honda CRV; DNA matched Astley, not Fujita

- rear tire and rim of CRV; DNA matched Astley, not Fujita

- cardboard box from garage; DNA matched Astley, not Fujita

Sullivan's cross-examination began at 9:57 a.m.

He asked Montgomery about a set of cleaning gloves found on the sink in the Fujita kitchen. She said that the gloves tested negative for blood.

Sullivan then asked about the pool stain in the Fujita garage. Showing Montgomery a photograph, Sullivan asked whether the stain was located behind the beam separating the two garage doors, to which Montgomery responded that it was.

Sullivan asked how the testing of the stain on the garage floor was conducted.

Montgomery responded that the team used a color test with chemicals that turn a piece of filter paper blue if blood is present. She said they then use a sterile moistened swab to collect a sample.

"I did note that there was a lot of leaf debris on the floor," Montgomery said, in response to Sullivan's question about whether she tested for sawdust or other things on the blood stain.

Turning his attention to the sweatshirts found in the attic crawlspace, Sullivan asked how those items were tested.

Montgomery said that a small cutting or a razor blade scraping would be taken from the items in order to collect a sample for the testing.

Sullivan finished his cross-examination at 10:10 a.m.

9:30 a.m. -- The jury entered at 9:30 a.m. and the testimony will begin shortly.

On Friday, testimony will begin at 9:30 a.m. because one of the jurors has a commitment.

Melissa Montgomery, a chemist and forensic expert, has returned to the stand.

9:25 a.m. -- The attorneys have been meeting with Judge Peter Lauriat in sidebar conference since about 9:10 a.m.

Nathaniel Fujita has entered the courtroom and is sitting quietly at the defendant's table. He's wearing today a black jacket, white shirt and tie.

9 a.m. -- The courtroom gallery is filling up early today. Often the benches don't fill until a while into the morning's testimony, but there are a number of people already here this morning.

As on other days, Malcolm Astley and Mary Dunne, Lauren Astley's parents, are seated on the front row behind the prosecution's table. On the other side of the courtroom, Tomo and Beth , the defendant's parents. are seated behind the defense table.

Editor's Note: The name of the medical examiner was misspelled. We apologize. It has been corrected above.

christina February 27, 2013 at 10:07 PM
May u burn in hell
Michael Barrett February 28, 2013 at 03:20 AM
+1

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