WOBURN — Nathaniel Fujita showed up drunk at his former girlfriend Lauren Astley’s joint graduation party on June 4, 2011, and followed her around begging to talk. When Astley refused, Fujita angrily shoved a tent pole so hard that the tent nearly collapsed, Astley’s best friend testified Monday.
Less than a month later, Astley was dead.
Fujita, now 20, is on trial in Middlesex Superior Court on first-degree murder and other charges in Astley’s slaying on July 3, 2011, not long after both graduated from Wayland High School. Prosecutors say he was furious and humiliated when Astley broke up with him; Fujita’s defense lawyer says he was suffering a brief psychotic episode.
Astley’s best friend Hannah Blahut, 19, testified that between 150 and 200 people came to the backyard party that she, Astley, and another friend hosted at Blahut’s Wayland home. They had rented a large tent, with a hardwood floor, lights, balloons, and music, she said.
Fujita arrived at the party drunk with a group of male friends and at one point began following Astley, saying: “Can we just talk? Can you just listen to me?”
Blahut said, “I saw Lauren pick up her hands and push them at her sides, as if she was saying, ‘Just stay away from me.’ ”
Fujita looked angry, Blahut said.
“His eyes squinted up, and . . . so did his face,” she said. “Then he walked up to one of the poles holding up the tent, grabbed his fist, and shoved it in. The entire tent started to shake as if it was going to fall down, and about 100 people at the party grabbed the tent and tried to hold it up.”
Blahut told Fujita to take a walk and settle down, she said, but he spoke harshly to her and stayed under the tent. About 20 minutes later, Blahut said, after Fujita had a couple more conversations with her and others, his mother arrived to take him home.
Before Blahut testified about that night, Judge Peter Lauriat told the jury that Fujita’s behavior at the party could only be used to illuminate the relationship between Fujita and Astley before her death and could not be considered proof of bad character or evidence of a crime. Defense lawyer William Sullivan objected several times to Blahut’s description of events.
It was Blahut’s second day of testimony.
Before the trial began, Sullivan attempted to block testimony about the June 4 party, calling it prejudicial, according to court documents.
The judge did, at Sullivan’s request, bar testimony about a 2009 incident when Fujita allegedly became enraged over a kiss Astley shared with another boy at a birthday party, while Astley and Fujita were on a break from their relationship. According to court documents, Fujita allegedly tried to punch the boy, was kicked out of the party, and continued to yell, saying he wanted to kill the boy, slit his throat, and smash his head on a rock.
Fujita is accused of luring Astley to his Wayland home on July 3, 2011, telling her to park her car out of sight and then beating, strangling, and slashing her to death before dumping her body in a marsh.
Astley and Fujita hung out with the same tight group of friends; Blahut was one of two of those friends to testify Monday. Both said that there was nothing unusual about Fujita’s behavior in the months and weeks leading up to Astley’s slaying.
Conor Murphy, 19, was close with Fujita, and they, along with three other young men, referred to themselves as “the buddies.” But in Fujita’s senior year, said Murphy, the group became “fed up” with Fujita. It was a personality issue, Murphy said.
“He was our friend, but he was definitely more of a fifth wheel,” said Murphy.
The group began using a social media app that excluded Fujita from their conversations, said Murphy, and sometimes hung out without him. When prosecutor Lisa McGovern asked why they began excluding Fujita, Sullivan objected.
Sullivan has argued that Fujita sank into a deep depression in the spring and summer of his senior year and that he stopped seeing friends at all.
At one point in mid- to late June, Murphy testified, “the Buddies” did ask Fujita to go fishing. Fujita was the same as he always was, Murphy said.
“It seemed like a normal night,” he said. It was the last time Murphy saw Fujita before Astley’s death.
Several times during Fujita’s trial, Sullivan has brought up the fact that Fujita suffered a head injury playing football. On Monday, McGovern asked Murphy if Fujita ever complained about headaches or head trauma. Murphy said no, but on cross-examination said he was aware of a head injury Fujita suffered when he spit up blood and was hospitalized.
Sullivan declined to comment on whether the head injury would play any role in his client’s defense.Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.