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Ex-teacher testifies in Wayland murder trial

Fujita familiar with site where body left, she says

Nathaniel Fujita (right) and defense attorney William Sullivan watched footage of Lauren Astley.

Ken McGagh/Associated Press

Nathaniel Fujita (right) and defense attorney William Sullivan watched footage of Lauren Astley.

Nathaniel Fujita had visited an isolated area in Wayland, where his former girlfriend’s body was later found, as part of a project for his environmental science class, according to testimony from his former teacher.

In March 2011, Fujita was one of many volunteers who worked on a fence to protect wildlife around Water Row, where Lauren Astley’s body was discovered July 4, 2011, a day after her death.

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The new details of the months leading up to Astley’s death came from testimony Tuesday from Emily Norton, who taught both Fujita and Astley in the class at Wayland High School.

Prosecutors say Fujita planned to strangle and slash the neck of his former girlfriend because he was ­humiliated by their breakup.

Fujita’s lawyer is presenting an insanity defense, saying that Fujita had a psychotic episode and did not understand what he was doing when Astley came to his home on the evening of July 3.

Norton described Fujita as an unemotional honors student, who struggled in her class toward the end of the year.

“Nate was very quiet,” said Norton, who has since retired. “He rarely, if ever, volunteered to contribute to discussions. He showed very little emotion. I rarely saw him smile, never saw him frown, laugh. I didn’t see any emotion.”

POOL PHOTO BY KEN MCGAGH

Emily Norton, who is now retired, taught both Nathaniel Fujita and Lauren Astley during their senior year.

She said she recalled him smiling twice, once when she moved him to a different seat because she wanted him to pay better attention in class.

“One time was when I moved him to the front of the room, and I saw him smile at Lauren,” Norton testified.

Not knowing the two had been a couple, Norton moved Fujita to the seat next to ­Astley’s some time in April. (The two had broken up in April and then briefly got back together in May, before splitting again, according to the prosecution’s opening statement.)

The other smile was in May, Norton said, when Fujita came to class with a beach towel around his neck, carrying a beach ball, and wearing sunglasses, as part of a game ­seniors were playing at the end of the school year.

Norton also said Fujita, an honors student, had started with an A-minus but eventually his grade average for the class fell to an F, and she met with Fujita and his mother, who was worried her son might lose a football scholarship to Trinity College. Fujita then raised his grade to a D.

Astley and Fujita were both 18 at the time of her death and both were headed to college and futures that appeared bright.

Fujita faces charges of first-degree murder, two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, and one count of assault and battery. If convicted, he faces life in prison without parole. If he is found not guilty because of lack of criminal responsibility, he will be committed indefinitely.

In other testimony, a security guard at the Natick Mall testified about video footage that appeared to show Astley coming and going from her job at a clothing boutique there on the day she died.

Astley’s parents, Mary Dunne and Malcolm Astley, cried as the footage appeared to show their daughter coming off an escalator and driving in and out of the parking lot.

On the same day, Fujita went to the mall less than two hours before Astley came to his home, purchasing protein powder from a GNC shop, according to Cory Heavey, the store’s assistant manager at the time. But earlier testimony indicated that Fujita did not stop by to see ­Astley, even though the two had exchanged text messages indicating he might.

The second week of what is expected to be a three-week trial opened with testimony from the Wayland police sergeant who interviewed Fujita in the hours after Astley’s death.

Richard Manley, who has since retired, described Fujita as calm and stable during two visits to his Wayland home early on the morning of July 4, 2011.

Manley testified that Fujita told him that Astley had come over for a few minutes on the evening of July 3, and the two had talked outside, while she stayed in her car.

“He said Lauren wanted to know why he wasn’t coming out more, socializing with ­others,” said Manley.

Manley testified that he ­noticed nothing unusual about Fujita’s behavior or demeanor and he did not initially consider him a suspect.

“At some point, he said, ‘I hope you find her,’ ” Manley testified.

Lisa Kocian can be reached at lkocian@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeLisaKocian.
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