, Salem, MA

Local News

October 9, 2013

Christensen takes stand, admits to stabbing

"I was scared," he tells jurors

BEVERLY — The first order of business for Sajan “Sage” Christensen as he took the witness stand in his own defense yesterday was a confession.

“Did you go to the (group home) and get a knife?” asked his attorney, Ray Buso.


Did you stab J.P. Vernazzaro?”



“I was scared,” said Christensen, his voice breaking.

And then, for the next 45 minutes, Buso led Christensen through the story of his life. He’ll be back on the stand today to talk about the night of the killing — and face cross-examination.

Christensen, 20, is facing a charge of first-degree murder in Vernazzaro’s death on St. Patrick’s Day 2011 at Balch Park. Christensen, then 18, and a second teen, Adam Martin, 17, armed themselves for a confrontation with Vernazzaro, 26, who had been calling their friend, Melissa Hicks, 17.

Martin has pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter and received a 12- to 15-year sentence.

Christensen, who turned down the same offer, and his attorney are hoping to convince jurors that the young man’s traumatic upbringing, including abuse in a Russian orphanage, his subsequent adoption by a suspected pedophile and bullying in school, led to post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions, causing him to misjudge the situation that night — and then lie about it.

In contrast to his language during the recorded police interrogation, when he referred to the police officers as “dude” and used slang terms like “mad” to mean “many,” Christensen yesterday frequently used words more commonly heard from social workers or lawyers, such as referring to fellow students as “peers” and describing fights as “altercations.”

Buso asked Christensen about his earliest memories.

“I recall my mother, um, having a lot of men inside the home,” Christensen said. “I didn’t know who my father was. I remember siblings ... they were older than me. I remember two females and one male.”

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local News

AP Video
Looming Demand Could Undercut Flight Safety Raw: 2 Shells Hit Fuel Tank at Gaza Power Plant Raw: Massive Explosions From Airstrikes in Gaza Giant Ketchup Bottle Water Tower Up for Sale Easier Nuclear Construction Promises Fall Short Kerry: Humanitarian Cease-fire Efforts Continue Raw: Corruption Trial Begins for Former Va Gov. The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming UN Security Council Calls for Gaza Cease-fire Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating 13 Struck by Lightning on Calif. Beach Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted Israel, Hamas Trade Fire Despite Truce in Gaza Italy's Nibali Set to Win First Tour De France Raw: Shipwrecked Concordia Completes Last Voyage Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge From Nest Raw: Massive Dust Storm Covers Phoenix 12-hour Cease-fire in Gaza Fighting Begins Raw: Bolivian Dancers Attempt to Break Record Raw: Israel, Palestine Supporters Rally in US
Comments Tracker