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.”