BEVERLY — A young Beverly man could face up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced later this month for the manslaughter conviction a Salem Superior Court jury handed down yesterday afternoon.
Sajan “Sage” Christensen, 20, who had been facing a first-degree murder charge, was found guilty of the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter in the March 17, 2011 stabbing death of James “J.P.” Vernazzaro.
Christensen, who showed no visible reaction to the verdict, will be sentenced Oct. 21. His lawyer, Raymond Buso, gave him a pat on the back as the verdict was announced.
Vernazzaro’s brother and sister were visibly upset and crying as they left the courthouse.
Christensen, who was 18 at the time of the killing, and a second teen, Adam Martin, then 17, went to Balch Park on the night of March 17, 2011 to meet Vernazzaro, 26.
The two teens and Vernazzaro had been exchanging heated phone calls and text messages during the hours leading up to the confrontation, Christensen testified.
But unlike Vernazzaro, the teens had decided to bring weapons — Christensen took a folding knife and Martin an aluminum baseball bat.
Prosecutor Kristen Buxton had suggested to jurors that Vernazzaro, overweight and drunk and unsteady on his feet that night, was “ambushed” by the teens as he arrived at the park.
The defense argued that the teens were simply trying to dissuade Vernazzaro from coming after them by having the weapons and that Vernazzaro “charged” at them.
But throughout the case, the defense had to acknowledge that Christensen had lied to police repeatedly, denying that he stabbed Vernazzaro.
On the witness stand, Christensen was unable to explain how Vernazzaro got a 3-inch-deep stab wound to his back. That was one of three stab wounds and two slashes found by the medical examiner on Vernazzaro’s body. The fatal wound pierced Vernazzaro’s heart.