Advertise - Print Edition

Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

With spotlight on murder trial, address dating violence

Published: February 14, 2013
Section: Opinions

It’s July 2011, I’m riding the Metrobus to my internship in Washington, D.C., skimming the news headlines from The Boston Globe on my iPhone as I usually do on the morning commute. A photograph, a school portrait of a teenager, stands out on the screen.

The face of Lauren Astley looked familiar. I had seen her many times during tennis clinics, lessons and camps at the Longfellow Club in Wayland, Mass., where high school athletes trained on afternoons during the school year, exchanging rallies in games of baseline 21 or olympic doubles and traveled to tournaments on the weekends. A place where we learned the basic values of hard work and sportsmanship, the foundation of any athletic success.

And now the photograph of Astley, who prosecutors say was strangled and slashed to death by her former boyfriend Nathaniel Fujita, suddenly appeared over the evening news and the front pages of community newspapers.

Fast forward nearly two years later and Fujita is on trial for first-degree murder. The quiet town of Wayland, shocked by the horrific murder in 2011, now faces the intense media spotlight of a high-profile trial.

In opening statements Wednesday, Assistant District Attorney Lisa McGovern argued to the jury that Fujita, who dated Astley for three years, killed her after she had broken up with him.

“Evidence will show you that the man you just heard sworn before you, Nathaniel Fujita, a man Lauren Astley had known and cared for, a man she had gone out with in high school for three years, coldly, cruelly killed her, because she wounded his ego,’’ McGovern said to jurors, according to The Globe. “This defendant attacked Lauren to get her back to hurt her, and to nullify her in a purposeful and deliberate way, calculated not only to inflict pain but to end her life and also to cover up what he was doing.”

Fujita’s attorney, William Sullivan, plans an insanity defense, recognizing there is no doubt about what happened and who committed the crime. “What you will hear is that the defendant was not able to control himself or really understand what it was that he was doing,’’ Sullivan said to the jury.

Fujita, a star athlete and college-bound senior from a wealthy Boston suburb now finds himself facing life in prison without parole if convicted. And if not, commitment to an institution, complete with period evaluations, according to The Globe.

I admit to not knowing much about the legal requirements for an insanity defense.

But the facts here are clear. If in three weeks, Fujita is found not guilty by reason of insanity, it would be a gross miscarriage of justice. Eighteen-year-olds must be held responsible for their actions. Perhaps there are cases for which the insanity defense applies, but not here. Fujita planned the murder, then tried to cover it up. His actions convey a level of brutality beyond words.

This murder trial will likely last about three weeks. After jurors hear the evidence about gruesome violence, about text messages and emails and high school dating, they will be faced with a decision of justice.

But long after this trial, whether Fujita is found guilty or not, responsible through a psychiatric defense, the issue of dating violence will continue in high schools and colleges across the country.

Surely, there are prosecutors and courts to administer justice after horrific crimes and tragedies have already occurred. But what our society so desperately needs is for parents and teachers and coaches and students, for guidance counselors and friends and school principals to recognize that dating violence and abuse happens in their communities and circles.

I don’t, in any way, mean to imply that this tragedy was preventable or intend to place blame on any groups or individuals. But the point is that this trial will end with a verdict.

And it’s up to communities affected by this case and immersed in the media spotlight to address the issues that arise. Teachers should not shy away from discussing the case in their classrooms simply because it is challenging, distressing and uncomfortable.

It may be true that horrible things happen in our society, for which, sometimes, there are few explanations. But it’s also true that the basic value of human decency and goodness can go a long way in developing healthy, fulfilling and balanced lives. And the more adults we have to spread those values, the safer our communities become.