July 6, 2011 -- A high school couple's three-year relationship ended in first-degree murder charges for Nathaniel Fujita after the body of his ex-girlfriend, Lauren Astley, 18, was discovered Monday morning.
A bicyclist riding along Water Row, a marshy area off Route 27 in Wayland, Mass., found Astley with her throat cut and a bungee cord wrapped around her neck.
Fujita, 18, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to first-degree murder. The former Wayland High School football player arrived for his arraignment wearing his team's orange T-shirt.
"It's just such a tragedy for these two families; it's a very, very sad tragic case," Fujita's lawyer, William Sullivan, said.
The two families reportedly shared a close bond. Astley even interviewed Tomo Fujita, Nathaniel's father, for a school project posted on YouTube in June 2010.
Astley's father, Malcolm Astley, expressed empathy for Fujita's family at Tuesday's court hearing.
"Lauren's mother and I share the anguish of Nate's parents who put so much caring and love into Nate and my daughter as well. We want them to know that," he said.
Lauren Astley Goes Missing
When Malcolm Astley's daughter didn't return home from her job at a clothing boutique Sunday night and two of his daughter's friends told him they had seen her car unattended at Wayland Town Beach, he filed a missing person's report with the Wayland Police Department.
Police questioned Nathaniel Fujita shortly afterward. He said Astley had visited their home around 7:45 p.m. then left after they spoke briefly while she remained in her car.
Police later searched Fujita's home, where he lives with his parents. They found blood in the garage and on an exterior door handle, and traces of blood on the kitchen floor, kitchen sink and bathroom sink.
They found a pair of blood-spattered sneakers in an attic crawlspace above Fujita's room.
Police also discovered a plastic garbage bag filled with bloody water-logged clothing, including a sweatshirt with pockets containing dirt similar to that of the marshland where Astley's body had been found.
The medical examiner said Astley died of strangulation and a cut to the neck.
Prosecutor Highlights Teen Dating Violence
Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone said this was a case of alleged teen dating violence.
"Lauren broke off the relationship. … It's a classic fatal paradigm that we see around teen dating relationships," Leone told reporters at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
Fujita doesn't have a prior criminal record and there is no indication that Fujita had abused Astley while they were dating, DA spokeswoman Jessica Venezia Pastore said.
Astley's friends told police he had an "on again, off again" relationship with Astley after she broke up with him in April. They also said Fujita has been less social and also seemed angrier for the past several weeks.
He had reportedly called her several times on her cellphone at Shop344 store in the Natick Collection mall where she worked. Cellphone records show three calls between Fujita and Astley Sunday night.
On his Facebook wall, Nathaniel, who also goes by Nate, listed Facebook group "Bad Thangs" as one of his interests. His last post was from April 12 when he posted a link to the song "On and On" by rapper Mac Miller.
Teen Murdered, Ex-Boyfriend In Custody
Other posts included profanity-laced comments to friends. On March 20 his status was: "ice cream chillllllin" at 1:34 a.m.
Facebook friend Grace Murphy responded, 'oh mygod you guys need to go to bed."
He wrote, "gracccce yo shut the f*** up! U go to bed haha hypocriteeeeeeee."
Fujita had been planning to attend Trinity College in Connecticut this fall.
Astley, who also recently graduated from Wayland High School, had been accepted to Elon University in North Carolina. Her father told the Boston Globe Astley was their only child, and said she was a former captain of the high school tennis team who sang in her school's a capella group and wanted to work in the fashion industry.
Fujita is scheduled to appear in court Aug. 15 for a probable cause hearing and is being held at the Middlesex House of Correction in Billerica, Mass.