One of Lauren Astley’s best friends described a frantic search for the young Wayland High graduate that took place after she failed to answer phone calls and text messages the night of July 3, 2011. Her battered body was found in a marsh the next day.
The dramatic testimony came Wednesday in the trial of Nathaniel Fujita, who is accused of luring 18-year-old Astley to his home, telling her to park out of sight, and then beating, strangling and slashing his former girlfriend to death in the garage.
Ariel Chates, 20, told a Middlesex Superior Court jury that she and Astley had plans to hang out with friends that evening. But they never came to pass.
Astley had slept at Chates’s house the night before, and she went to work on July 3 wearing Chates’s leopard-print summer dress, the friend said. Astley had the same outfit on when her body was discovered.
Both teens had jobs at the Natick Mall, and at about 3 p.m. that afternoon they ate lunch in the food court. Asked by the prosecutor how Astley’s mood was, Chates said, “It was happy. She was her normal perky self.”
Chates left work first, she said, and Astley was to meet her at her house that evening. Chates took a nap, and when she woke up she saw a text message from Astley on her cellphone. It was a name that Astley called her as a joke.
Chates responded, but did not get a text message back, she said. That made her concerned, so she started texting some of her friends and asked if any of them had heard from Astley. It was around 8 p.m.
“None of our immediate group heard from her, and I was getting a little worried,” Chates said. “Her dad called asking me if I had heard from her.”
At that point, she testified, she called Fujita’s cellphone and sent him a text message but he didn’t answer. Then, Chates said, she called his home phone and his mother answered and put Fujita on the phone.
“I said ‘Hi Nate, I know that this is a bit of a long shot, but I was wondering if you’d heard or seen Lauren,’ and he said ‘No, this is the last place she’d ever be,’” Chates testified.
Then, she said, she asked Fujita how he was. “I haven’t seen you in a while. I was wondering how you’re doing,“ she recalled saying.
“He said, ‘I was in the middle of watching a movie, you interrupted me, and I have to go.’”
Chates described his tone of voice as “normal, but rude, which was normal.”
Chates then called another friend and they went looking for Astley. They headed to South Wayland but then got a phone call that Astley’s car was at the town beach.
When they saw the vehicle, Chates said, they called Lauren’s father, Malcolm. They also called the police, who came within a few minutes.
When Astley’s father arrived, Chates said, “Malcolm ran into the water with a flashlight.”
They stayed at the town beach all night long, receiving exchanging text messages and phone calls.
Fujita kept his head down throughout Chates’s testimony.
Jennifer Montgomery, a forensic scientist with the State Police crime lab, testified that she found Astley’s DNA on a bloody towel found at Water Row, near where her body was found; in a large blood stain on the floor of the Fujita family’s garage; on a sneaker from the crawl space in Fujita’s room; and in the Honda that Fujita had been driving, which prosecutors say he used to dump her body. Astley’s DNA was also found on a vacuum and a trash can in the garage, Montgomery said.
Montgomery said she also found a drop of Fujita’s blood in Astley’s Jeep.
Fujita faces charges of first-degree murder, two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, and one count of assault and battery.