BEVERLY — As Beverly police detective Jeff Liacos broke the news to Sajan “Sage” Christensen, the teen was skeptical.
“Look at me,” Liacos is heard on the recording of Christensen’s interrogation. “He’s dead.”
“I don’t believe you guys,” Christensen said, as he was given the news about James “J.P.” Vernazzaro, the man he’d agreed to fight at Beverly’s Balch Park hours earlier. Vernazzaro had died on the playground from a 5-inch-deep knife wound to the heart.
“You think I’d kid with you?” asked Liacos.
“He’s not dead,” Christensen said. “There is no way he’s dead.”
Over and over, Christensen expressed disbelief. “He’s not dead, dude,” he can be heard telling the officers.
Christensen, now 20, was one of two men charged in the death of Vernazzaro, 26, on St. Patrick’s Day, 2011.
“Tell us what happened,” state police detective Robert LaBarge pressed. “You’re not telling us the truth.”
“I didn’t lie, dude,” said Christensen. “I don’t think he got stabbed.”
So how, the detectives asked, did Vernazzaro’s blood get all over Christensen?
“There was mad kids, there was a lot a kids,” Christensen, his voice raised, shot back. Maybe it was one of them. But he couldn’t say who, besides him, had a knife.
“You’re in a jam now,” LaBarge told him. “It’s going to look worse. You’re going to look like the biggest liar in the world.”
How did he get the cut on his finger, the detectives asked. “He hit me while I had the knife in my hand.”
They circled back to the issue of Vernazzaro’s blood. “I don’t know how he was bleeding,” said Christensen. “When he fell on top of me he was bleeding. I’m going to be honest. At first I thought he was bleeding from his nose.”