Nathaniel Fujita Trial Conjures Up Painful Evidence

Fujita faces charges, including first-degree murder, in the death of Lauren Astley.

The murder trial of Lauren Astley, the bright-eyed Wayland High School graduate killed on July 3, 2011, is underway, which means the public is getting a closer look at what happened in the days and months leading up to her death. By most accounts, it was a time like any other for recent high school graduates—the wild abandon of graduation parties giving way to the nervous excitement of heading off to college in the fall. Astley was to attend Elon College in North Carolina, but something went terribly wrong.

In what prosecutors say was a premeditated moment of cold-blooded aggression and defense attorneys call a psychotic episode precipitated by deep depression, Astley’s ex-boyfriend, Nathaniel Fujita, also a recent Wayland High grad, allegedly strangled her and slashed her throat, then dumped her body in a nearby marsh. He’s charged with first-degree murder in Astley’s death.

At the trial earlier this week, Ronald Bolivar III, a friend of Fujita’s who was with him at a graduation party that June, told the court that Fujita’s mood was upbeat. “I would say it was happy, friendly,” he testified, “just like the rest of us.”

Prosecutors allege that the teen had been deeply troubled by the couple’s breakup, that he called Astley to his house on the day of her death and asked her to park her car covertly, then killed her in his family’s garage. Prosecutors have already described what appeared to be blood stains in the bathroom and kitchen of the Fujita home and on the window of Fujita’s car, as well as a reddish brown stain on the floor of the garage. Another former classmate described seeing Fujita in the moments after the alleged crime, driving shirtless with music blaring through open windows as he raced down Route 27 in Wayland.

But Fujita’s lawyer, William Sullivan, is mounting an insanity defense in hopes of reaching a lighter sentence. His argument is that, after Astley broke up with Fujita, his client suffered from severe depression and killed her during a “brief psychotic episode.”

When Astley’s best friend, Genevieve Flynn, took the stand and answered questions through sobs, the trauma inflicted on these kids, at the heady outset of their adult lives, was on full display. But no image was more haunting than the one caught on the security camera in the Natick Mall where Astley worked. Played for the court, the frame shows the swish of Astley’s summer skirt and a cascade of brown hair falling straight down her back as she steps toward the escalator. She’s been described as optimistic and spunky, always smiling, and you can see it in the way she’s about to take those steps, like a girl who knows just where she’s going and can’t wait to get there.

Later that night, her parents reported her missing.

This week, prosecutors also admitted Astley’s car keys into evidence. They were found in a storm drain between the Fujita house and the Wayland Town Beach after her body was recovered. Attached to the key ring was an emblem of her bright future—a lanyard from Elon College.